Heat (Energy) Transfer Mechanisms

"The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is at all comprehensible."

Albert Einstein

3 heat transfer


where delta T is the change in temperature and k is the thermal conductivity of the material, measured in  Watts/m.0C.
Note that the negative sign is a result of the fact that heat flows in the direction of decreasing x.
  • For the Steady State situation (when the temperature at each point on the sample is no longer changing with time), we can write,
th cond 2

where, TH and TC are the temperatures at the hot and cold ends of the rod, respectively.

  • convection 1Caused by the macroscopic motion of the substance, only possible when the atoms/molecules can migrate through the sample as in gases and liquids (fluids).
    • Hot fluid expands, becomes less dense and rises due to buoyancy forces
    • Cold fluid contracts, becomes more dense and  sinks due to gravity
  •  Natural convection needs gravity and a hot reservoir below a cold reservoir, e.g. weather patterns (convection can be forced by the use of fans).
convection 2

  • All bodies emit electromagnetic radiation which carries away heat (energy). 
  • The resultant direction of heat flow depends upon the relative temperatures of the object and its environment (heat always flows from the hot to cold). 
  • Note that the type of radiation is dependent on the temperature of the object, e.g. the human body emits radiation primarily in the infra-red, hence the usefulness of heat sensing binoculars. 
  • Also, electromagnetic radiation can be transmitted through a vacuum.  Isolating a thermodynamic system from the effects of radiation is essentially impossible. 
  • Physics 299 will address the topic of radiation in more detail.

You enter the laboratory and see an experiment.
How will you know which class is it?
If it's green and wiggles, it's biology.
If it stinks, it's chemistry.
If it doesn't work, it's physics.


Dr. C. L. Davis
Physics Department
University of Louisville
email: c.l.davis@louisville.edu