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17.4: Heat Capacity and Specific Heat

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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The large swimming pool will warm up more slowly because of its size

Which pool will warm up faster?

If a swimming pool and wading pool, both full of water at the same temperature were subjected to the same input of heat energy, the wading pool would certainly rise in temperature more quickly than the swimming pool. The heat capacity of an object depends both on its mass and its chemical composition. Because of its much larger mass, the swimming pool of water has a larger heat capacity than the bucket of water.

Heat Capacity and Specific Heat

Different substances respond to heat in different ways. If a metal chair sits in the bright sun on a hot day, it may become quite hot to the touch. An equal mass of water in the same sun will not become nearly as hot. We would say that water has a high heat capacity (the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of an object by 1°C.) Water is very resistant to changes in temperature, while metals in general are not. The specific heat of a substance is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of the substance by 1°C. Table below lists the specific heats of some common substances. The symbol for specific heat is cp, with the p subscript referring to the fact that specific heats are measured at constant pressure. The units for specific heat can either be joules per gram per degree (J/g°C) or calories per gram per degree (cal/g°C). This text will use J/g°C for specific heat.

Specific Heats of Some Common Substances
Substance Specific Heat (J/g°C)
Water (l) 4.18
Water (s) 2.06
Water (g) 1.87
Ammonia (g) 2.09
Ethanol (l) 2.44
Aluminum (s) 0.897
Carbon, graphite (s) 0.709
Copper (s) 0.385
Gold (s) 0.129
Iron (s) 0.449
Lead (s) 0.129
Mercury (l) 0.140
Silver (s) 0.233

Notice that water has a very high specific heat compared to most other substances. Water is commonly used as a coolant for machinery because it is able to absorb large quantities of heat (see Table above). Coastal climates are much more moderate than inland climates because of the presence of the ocean. Water in lakes or oceans absorbs heat from the air on hot days and releases it back into the air on cool days.

Water is often used as a coolant for factories because of its high heat capacity

This power plant in West Virginia, like many others, is located next to a large lake so that the water from the lake can be used as a coolant. Cool water from the lake is pumped into the plant, while warmer water is pumped out of the plant and back into the lake.


  • Heat capacity and specific heat are defined.


  1. What is heat capacity?
  2. What is specific heat?
  3. You have a 10 gram piece of aluminum and a 10 gram piece of gold sitting in the sun. Which metal will warm by ten degrees first?
  4. You have a 20 gram piece of aluminum and a 40 gram piece of aluminum sitting in the sun. Which piece will arm by ten degrees first?

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Use the resource below to answer the questions that follow.

  1. What was in the first balloon?
  2. What was in the send balloon?
  3. Why did the first balloon not burst?
  4. Why did the second balloon burst?

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Difficulty Level:
At Grade
Date Created:
May 01, 2013
Last Modified:
Sep 11, 2016
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