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Heat Conduction

Explores how heat is transferred between objects.

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Heat Conduction

Yummy! These cookies look delicious. But watch out! They just finished baking in a hot oven, so the cookie sheet is too hot to handle without an oven mitt. Touching the cookie sheet with bare hands could cause a painful burn. Do you know why? The answer is conduction.

What Is Conduction?

Conduction is the transfer of thermal energy between particles of matter that are touching. Thermal energy is the total kinetic energy of moving particles of matter, and the transfer of thermal energy is called heat. Conduction is one of three ways that thermal energy can be transferred (the other ways are convection and thermal radiation). Thermal energy is always transferred from matter with a higher temperature to matter with a lower temperature.

Pass It On

To understand how conduction works, you need to think about the tiny particles that make up matter. The particles of all matter are in constant random motion, but the particles of warmer matter have more energy and move more quickly than the particles of cooler matter. When particles of warmer matter collide with particles of cooler matter, they transfer some of their thermal energy to the cooler particles. From particle to particle, like dominoes falling, thermal energy moves through matter. 

In the opening photo above, conduction occurs between particles of metal in the cookie sheet and anything cooler that comes into contact with it—hopefully, not someone’s bare hands! 

Examples of Conduction

The cookie sheet in the opening image transfers thermal energy to the cookies and helps them bake. There are many other common examples of conduction. The Figure below shows a few situations in which thermal energy is transferred in this way.

Other common examples of conduction

Hot Iron: A hot iron removes the wrinkles in a shirt. Hot Cocoa: Holding a cup of hot cocoa feels good when you have cold hands. Camp Stove: This camp stove can be used to cook food in a small pot. Snow: Ouch! Can you imagine how cold this snow must feel on bare feet?

Q: How is thermal energy transferred in each of the situations pictured in the Figure above?

A: Thermal energy is transferred by conduction from the hot iron to the shirt, from the hot cup to the hand holding it, from the flame of the camp stove to the bottom of the pot as well as from the bottom of the pot to the food inside, and from the feet to the snow. The shirt, hand, pot, food, and snow become warmer because of the transferred energy. Because the feet lose thermal energy, they feel colder.

Summary

  • Conduction is the transfer of thermal energy between particles of matter that are touching. Thermal energy is always transferred from particles of warmer matter to particles of cooler matter.
  • When particles of warmer matter collide with particles of cooler matter, they transfer some of their thermal energy to the cooler particles.

Review

  1. What is conduction?
  2. How does conduction occur?
  3. Describe an original example of conduction.

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Vocabulary

conduction

Transfer of thermal energy between particles of matter that are touching.

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