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Thermodynamics and Heat in Physics
 

Energy Likes to Move

If there is a temperature difference in a system, heat will naturally move from high to low temperatures. The place you find the higher temperature is the heat source. The area where the temperature is lower is the heat sink. When examining systems, scientists measure a number called the temperature gradient. The gradient is the change in temperature divided by the distance. The units are degrees per centimeter. If the temperature drops over a specific distance, the gradient is a negative value. If the temperature goes up, the gradient has a positive value. The greater the gradient, the more energy will be exchanged.

Ever Hear of Convection Ovens?

Convection is the way heat is transferred from one area to another when there is a "bulk movement of matter." It is the movement of huge amounts of material, taking the heat from one area and placing it in another. Warm air rises and cold air replaces it. The heat has moved. It is the transfer of heat by motion of objects. Convection occurs when an area of hot water rises to the top of a pot and gives off energy. Another example is warm air in the atmosphere rising and giving off energy. They are all examples of convection. The thing to remember is that objects change position.

Radiating Energy

When the transfer of energy happens by radiation, there is no conductive medium (such as in space). That lack of medium means there is no matter there for the heat to pass through. Radiation is the energy carried by electromagnetic waves (light). Those waves could be radio waves, infrared, visible light, UV, or Gamma rays. Heat radiation is usually found in the infrared sections of the EM spectrum. If the temperature of an object doubles (in Kelvin), the thermal radiation increases 16 times. Therefore, if it goes up four times, it increases to 32 times the original level.

Scientists have also discovered that objects that are good at giving off thermal radiation are also good at absorbing the same energy. Usually the amount of radiation given off by an object depends on the temperature. The rate at which you absorb the energy depends on the energy of the objects and molecules surrounding you.

Conducting Energy and Heat

Conduction is a situation where the heat source and heat sink are connected by matter. As we discussed before, the heat flows from the source down the temperature gradient to the sink. It is different from convection because there is no movement of large amounts of matter, and the transfers are through collisions. The source and the sink are connected.

If you touch an ice cream cone, the ice cream heats up because you are a warmer body. If you lie on a hot sidewalk, the energy moves directly to your body by conduction. When scientists studied good thermal radiators, they discovered that good thermal conductors are also good at conducting electricity. So when you think of a good thermal conductor, think about copper, silver, gold, and platinum.

Next Stop On Physics4Kids Tour
Next page on thermodynamics and heat.
 
- Overview
> Energy Transfer
- Expansion
- Heat
- Temperatures
- Thermo. Laws
- First Law
- Second Law
- Enthalpy
- Entropy

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Useful Reference Materials

Encyclopedia.com (Heat Transfer):
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