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Specific Heat

Different materials require different amounts of thermal energy to achieve the same temperature increase.

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Be Specific

Be Specific

Credit: Bill Wrigley
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Automobile_radiator.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

You may recognize this device as a car radiator. But do you know why cars have radiators?

The Back Story

  • A radiator in a home heating system radiates heat to warm up the air in a room. But that’s not the job of a car radiator. It radiates heat, but it does so mainly to cool down the car engine. It’s part of the car’s cooling system.
  • Credit: Michael Sheehan
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hightechdad/8287296003/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    When the radiator breaks, the car can overheat and catch on fire [Figure2]

  • The radiator in a car has water running through it. The water may contain antifreeze to ensure that it won’t freeze if the temperature outside falls below the freezing point of water. The water and antifreeze mixture is referred to as coolant.
  • Watch this video to see how a car radiator works.


Can You Apply It?

At the links below, learn why water makes such a good coolant for a car radiator. Then answer the questions that follow.

  1. Water runs through a long tube inside a car radiator. How does the temperature of the water change as it runs through the radiator?
  2. What is the purpose of the aluminum fins in a car radiator? Why are the fins made of aluminum?
  3. What method of heat transfer cools the water and heats up the radiator as the water flows through it?
  4. Where does the cool water that leaves the radiator go next?
  5. How is a car’s heater related to the car’s cooling system?
  6. What is specific heat?
  7. Compare the specific heat of water with that of air, aluminum, and iron.
  8. Relate the specific heat of water to its usefulness as a coolant in cars.

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Bill Wrigley; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Automobile_radiator.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Michael Sheehan; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hightechdad/8287296003/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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