Heat is one interesting form of energy. Not only does it sustain life, make united state comfortable and help us prepare our food, yet understanding its nature is vital to many fields of scientific research. For example, learning how warmth is transferred and also the level to which different materials have the right to exchange thermal energy governs whatever from building heaters and also understanding seasonal adjust to sending out ships into space.

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Heat can only be transferred through 3 means: conduction, convection and also radiation. Of these, conduction is maybe the most common, and also occurs regularly in nature. In short, the is the move of warmth through physics contact. That occurs when you push your hand onto a window pane, once you location a pot of water ~ above an active element, and also when you ar an iron in the fire.

This move occurs in ~ the molecule level — from one human body to another — when heat energy is soaked up by a surface and also causes the molecule of that surface ar to move an ext quickly. In the process, castle bump into their neighbors and transfer the power to them, a procedure which continues as long as heat is still being added.


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Heat conduction occurs through any material, represented here by a rectangle-shaped bar. The price at which it is transfers relies in component on the thickness of the material (rep. Through A). Credit: Boundless

The process of warm conduction depends on four simple factors: the temperature gradient, the cross section of the materials involved, their path length, and the properties of those materials.

A temperature gradient is a physical quantity that explains in i m sorry direction and also at what price the temperature transforms in a details location. Temperature constantly flows native the hottest to coldest source, due to the reality that cold is nothing but the absence of warmth energy. This transfer between bodies continues until the temperature distinction decays, and also a state well-known as thermal equilibrium occurs.

Cross-section and path length are additionally important factors. The higher the size the the material affiliated in the transfer, the more heat is necessary to heat it. Also, the much more surface area the is exposed to open up air, the better likelihood for warm loss. So much shorter objects v a smaller sized cross-section room the best method of minimizing the loss of heat energy.


Last, yet certainly no least, is the physical properties that the materials involved. Basically, once it involves conducting heat, no all substances are created equal. Steels and rock are considered an excellent conductors since they have the right to speedily move heat, whereas products like wood, paper, air, and also cloth are poor conductors the heat.

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Conduction, together demonstrated by heating a metal rod v a flame. Credit: Thomson greater Education

These conductive properties are rated based on a “coefficient” i beg your pardon is measured family member to silver. In this respect, silver has a coefficient of warm conduction of 100, vice versa, other products are ranked lower. These encompass copper (92), iron (11), water (0.12), and also wood (0.03). At the opposite finish of the spectrum is a perfect vacuum, i beg your pardon is i can not qualify of conducting heat, and also is thus ranked in ~ zero.

Materials the are bad conductors of heat are dubbed insulators. Air, which has a conduction coefficient that .006, is an exceptional insulator due to the fact that it is capable of being included within an enclosed space. This is why synthetic insulators exploit air compartments, such together double-pane glass home windows which are used for cutting heating bills. Basically, castle act as buffers versus heat loss.


Feather, fur, and natural fibers are all examples of natural insulators. These are materials that enables birds, mammals and also human us to continue to be warm. Sea otters, because that example, live in ocean waters that are often an extremely cold and also their luxuriously thick fur keeps them warm. Various other sea mammals choose sea lions, whales and also penguins rely on special layers of fat (aka. Blubber) – a an extremely poor conductor – come prevent heat loss through their skin.

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This watch of the nose section of space shuttle Discovery, construct of heat-resistance carbon-composites. Credit: NASA

This exact same logic is applied to insulating homes, buildings, and even spacecraft. In this cases, approaches involve one of two people trapped air pockets in between walls, fiber-glass (which trap air within it) or high-density foam. Spacecraft are a distinct case, and use insulation in the type of foam, reinforced carbon composite material, and silica fiber tiles. All of these are negative conductors of heat, and therefore prevent heat from being lost in space and also prevent the excessive temperatures led to by atmospheric reentry native entering the crew cabin.

See this video demonstration that the warm tiles on the space Shuttle:


The legislations governing conduction of heat are very similar to Ohm’s Law, i beg your pardon governs electric conduction. In this case, a good conductor is a product that enables electrical current (i.e. Electrons) come pass through it without lot trouble. An electrical insulator, through contrast, is any material who internal electric charges do not flow freely, and also therefore do it really hard to command an electric current under the affect of an electrical field.

In many cases, materials that are bad conductors of heat are additionally poor conductors that electricity. For instance, copper is great at conducting both heat and electricity, thus why copper wires are used so commonly in the to produce of electronics. Gold and silver are even better, and also where price is no an issue, these products are offered in the building and construction of electrical circuits as well.

And when one is looking to “ground” a charge (i.e. Neutralize it), castle send it v a physical link to the Earth, where the fee is lost. This is typical with electrical circuits where exposed metal is a factor, ensuring that people who accidentally come into call are no electrocuted.


Insulating materials, such as rubber top top the soles the shoes, is worn to ensure that people working with sensitive materials or around electrical sources are defended from electric charges. Other insulating materials like glass, polymers, or porcelain are commonly used on strength lines and high-voltage power transmitters to keep power flow to the circuits (and naught else!)

In short, conduction comes down to the transfer of warm or the deliver of an electrical charge. Both happen as a an outcome of a substance’s capacity to allow molecules to carry energy across them.

We have written plenty of articles around conduction for universe Today. Inspect out this article on the very first law of thermodynamics, or this one on static electricity.


If you’d like more info on the conduction, examine out BBC’s article about Heat Transfer, and here’s a attach to The Physics Hypertextbook.

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We’ve also recorded an entire episode the Astronomy Cast around Magnetism – illustration 42: Magnetism Everywhere.