Lab #7: Thermal Energy Heat is thermal energy being transferred from one place to another, because of temperature changes. This can take place by three processes. These three processes are known as conduction, convection, and radiation. When we place two objects with different temperatures in contact with each other, the heat from the hotter object will immediately and automatically flow to the colder object. This is known as conduction. Some objects make excellent conductors of heat while others make poor conductors of heat or excellent insulators.

Silver, copper, and gold make excellent conductors of heat. Foams and plastics make good insulators of heat but make poor conductors. Last night for dinner, I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup. I heated the soup faster than I cooked the sandwich so I poured the hot soup into a bowl and finished cooking the sandwich. Once I was done cooking, I gabbed the soup bowl and burned my hand. The heat from the soup made the bowl hot.

This is an example of conduction. The process of conduction between a solid surface and a moving liquid or gas is called convection. The motion of the fluid may be natural or forced. If a liquid or gas is heated, its mass per unit volume generally decreases. If the liquid or gas is in a gravitational field, the hotter, lighter fluid rises while the colder, heavier fluid sinks. For example, when water in a pan is heated from below on my stove, the liquid closest to the bottom expands and its density decreases.

The hot water as a result rises to the top and some of the cooler fluid descends toward the bottom, thus setting up a circulatory motion. This is also why the heating of a room by a radiator depends less on radiation than on natural convection currents, the hot air rising upward along the wall and cooler air coming back to the radiator from the side of the bottom. Because of the tendencies of hot air to rise and of cool air to sink, radiators are positioned near the floor and air-conditioning outlets near the ceiling for maximum efficiency. Radiation is fundamentally different from both conduction and convection in that the substances exchanging heat need not be in contact with each other. All substances emit radiant energy merely by virtue of having a positive absolute temperature. The higher the temperature, the greater the amount of energy emitted.

In addition to emitting, all substances are capable of absorbing radiation. Thus, although an ice cube is continuously emitting radiant energy, it will melt if a halogen lamp is focused on it because it will be absorbing a greater amount of heat than it is emitting. In addition, surfaces can absorb or reflect incident radiation. Generally, dull, rough surfaces absorb more heat than bright, polished surfaces, and bright surfaces reflect more radiant energy than dull surfaces. In addition, good absorbers are also good emitters; good reflectors, or poor absorbers, are poor emitters. This is why cooking utensils generally have dull bottoms for good absorption and polished sides for minimum emission to maximize the heat transfer into the contents of the pot.

Heat and is always being transferred from place to place. Everything on Earth has a temperature above Zero Kelvin so everything on earth contains heat. Without some kind of heat and energy, there would not be life.