Matter & Energy Changes During Photosynthesis

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  • 0:03 Matter and Energy
  • 1:19 Photosynthesis
  • 3:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Photosynthesis is how plants make food. Like all processes, it involves inputs and outputs of matter and energy. Learn about those flows of matter and energy, and what they teach us about the universe.

Matter and Energy

Every process has inputs and outputs. Let's say you're throwing a birthday party, and you decide to bake a cake. You have to input the ingredients, the time and effort, your muscle power, and the heat from the oven. The result you get is a beautiful cake, and that eventually outputs into the mouths of your guests, as they eat it excitedly. That might be a bit of a silly example, but it shows that everything involves inputs and outputs when you really break it down.

The same is true of systems in the natural world, ones that involve the movement of matter and energy. Matter is the physical stuff the universe is made from: stuff you can touch and feel. This is like the ingredients for the cake. Energy has lots of different definitions, but perhaps the simplest one to understand is that energy is the resources required to do any kind of work. This is like the energy in your body that you use to stir the cake mixture and the heat energy that the oven provides as it bakes.

In the natural world there are lots of transfers of matter and energy as well. In this lesson, we going to look at one particular process in the natural world, and what inputs and outputs it has in terms of matter and energy. That process is called photosynthesis.


Photosynthesis is where a plant takes light from the sun, water from the soil, and carbon dioxide from the air, and turns it into two things: glucose, which it uses for energy, and oxygen, which it releases into the air. This is basically how plants get food - they make it through the process of photosynthesis. It's the reason the plants continue to exist. So what are the matter and energy changes in photosynthesis?

Well, let's look at the inputs and the outputs. The inputs for photosynthesis are light (which is energy), water (which is matter), and carbon dioxide (which is also matter). Physics tells us that matter and energy are really the same thing in different forms, so those matter and energy inputs could lead to any combination of matter and energy outputs. Matter and energy is neither created nor destroyed, so it all has to go somewhere. One of the main places it goes is into the plant itself: photosynthesis produces energy in the form of glucose sugar, which the plant uses to replace dying cells, and build new ones to help it grow.

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