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Predicting Thermal Expansion

Coefficient of Linear Expansion

A coefficient is a number that serves as a measure for some characteristic or property. It


may also be a factor against which other values are multiplied to provide a desired result.
For any type of material, it is possible to calculate the degree to which that material will
expand or contract when exposed to changes in temperature. This is known, in general
terms, as its coefficient of expansion, though, in fact, there are two varieties of expansion
coefficient.

The coefficient of linear expansion is a constant that governs the degree to which the
length of a solid will change as a result of an alteration in temperature For any given
substance, the coefficient of linear expansion is typically a number expressed in terms of
10−5/°C. In other words, the value of a particular solid's linear expansion coefficient is
multiplied by 0.00001 per °C. (The °C in the denominator, shown in the equation below,
simply "drops out" when the coefficient of linear expansion is multiplied by the change in
temperature.)

For quartz, the coefficient of linear expansion is 0.05. By contrast, iron, with a coefficient
of 1.2, is 24 times more likely to expand or contract as a result of changes in temperature.
(Steel has the same value as iron.) The coefficient for aluminum is 2.4, twice that of iron
or steel. This means that an equal temperature change will produce twice as much change
in the length of a bar of aluminum as for a bar of iron. Lead is among the most expansive
solid materials, with a coefficient equal to 3.0.

Calculating Linear Expansion

The linear expansion of a given solid can be calculated according to the formula δL =
aLOΔT. The Greek letter delta (d) means "a change in"; hence, the first figure represents
change in length, while the last figure in the equation stands for change in temperature.
The letter a is the coefficient of linear expansion, and LO is the original length.

Suppose a bar of lead 5 meters long experiences a temperature change of 10°C; what will
its change in length be? To answer this, a (3.0 · 10−5/°C) must be multiplied by LO (5 m)
and δT (10°C). The answer should be 150 & 10−5 m, or 1.5 mm. Note that this is simply a
change in length related to a change in temperature: if the temperature is raised, the
length will increase, and if the temperature is lowered by 10°C, the length will decrease
by 1.5 mm.

Volume Expansion

Obviously, linear equations can only be applied to solids. Liquids and gases, classified
together as fluids, conform to the shape of their container; hence, the "length" of any
given fluid sample is the same as that of the solid that contains it. Fluids are, however,
subject to volume expansion—that is, a change in volume as a result of a change in
temperature.
To calculate change in volume, the formula is very much the same as for change in
length; only a few particulars are different. In the formula δV = bVOδT, the last term,
again, means change in temperature, while δV means change in volume and VO is the
original volume. The letter b refers to the coefficient of volume expansion. The latter is
expressed in terms of 10−4/°C, or 0.0001 per °C.

Glass has a very low coefficient of volume expansion, 0.2, and that of Pyrex glass is
extremely low—only 0.09. For this reason, items made of Pyrex are ideally suited for
cooking. Significantly higher is the coefficient of volume expansion for glycerin, an oily
substance associated with soap, which expands proportionally to a factor of 5.1. Even
higher is ethyl alcohol, with a volume expansion coefficient of 7.5.

Real-Life Applications

Liquids

Liquids do not have a definite shape. They take the shape of the container. Thus, we can
specify a liquid by its volume. Hence, we can speak of volume expansion only for
liquids. Expansion of liquids is much greater than that of solids.

A liquid is heated in a container. Heat flows through the container to the liquid. Which
means that the container expands first, due to which the level of the liquid falls. When the
liquid gets heated, it expands more and beyond its original level. We cannot observe the
intermediate state. We can only observe the initial and the final levels. This observed
expansion of the liquid is known as the apparent expansion of the liquid.

If we consider the expansion of the container also and measure the total expansion in
volume of the liquid, then the expansion is termed as the absolute expansion of the liquid.
Expansion of container with liquid

In the figure L1 represents the original level at the level of the liquid first falls to L2,
because the container gets heat first.

When the liquid gets heated, it expands much more than the container and its level rises
to L3.

We can only observe the increase in level from L1 to L3. Intermediate level L2 goes
unnoticed. The expansion we measure is the apparent expansion of the liquid. The
corresponding coefficient is coefficient of apparent expansion.

The coefficient of apparent expansion is defined as the ratio of apparent increase in


volume of the liquid to its original volume for every degree rise in temperature.

Coefficient of apparent expansion

If we evaluate the increase in volume of the liquid taking into


account the expansion of the vessel also, then we say it is absolute expansion of the
liquid. We can show that,

The coefficient of absolute expansion of a liquid = coefficient of apparent expansion +


coefficient of cubical expansion of the material of the container.

Liquid γ value at 20 °C
Water 21x10-5/°C
Benzene 122x10-5/°C
Mercury 18x10-5/°C

We may observe that liquids expand ten times more than solids.

Most liquids follow a fairly predictable pattern of gradual volume increase, as a response
to an increase in temperature, and volume decrease, in response to a decrease in
temperature. Indeed, the coefficient of volume expansion for a liquid generally tends to
be higher than for a solid, and—with one notable exception discussed below—a liquid
will contract when frozen.

The behavior of gasoline pumped on a hot day provides an example of liquid thermal
expansion in response to an increase in temperature. When it comes from its underground
tank at the gas station, the gasoline is relatively cool, but it will warm when sitting in the
tank of an already warm car. If the car's tank is filled and the vehicle left to sit in the sun
—in other words, if the car is not driven after the tank is filled—the gasoline might very
well expand in volume faster than the fuel tank, overflowing onto the pavement.

Engine Coolant

Another example of thermal expansion on the part of a liquid can be found inside the
car's radiator. If the radiator is "topped off" with coolant on a cold day, an increase in
temperature could very well cause the coolant to expand until it overflows. In the past,
this produced a problem for car owners, because car engines released the excess volume
of coolant onto the ground, requiring periodic replacement of the fluid.

Later-model cars, however, have an overflow container to collect fluid released as a


result of volume expansion. As the engine cools down again, the container returns the
excess fluid to the radiator, thus, "recycling" it. This means that newer cars are much less
prone to overheating as older cars. Combined with improvements in radiator fluid
mixtures, which act as antifreeze in cold weather and coolant in hot, the "recycling"
process has led to a significant decrease in breakdowns related to thermal expansion.

Water

One good reason not to use pure water in one's radiator is that water has a far higher
coefficient of volume expansion than a typical engine coolant. This can be particularly
hazardous in cold weather, because frozen water in a radiator could expand enough to
crack the engine block.

In general, water—whose volume expansion coefficient in the liquid state is 2.1, and 0.5
in the solid state—exhibits a number of interesting characteristics where thermal
expansion is concerned. If water is reduced from its boiling point—212°F (100°C) to
39.2°F (4°C) it will steadily contract, like any other substance responding to a drop in
temperature. Normally, however, a substance continues to become denser as it turns from
liquid to solid; but this does not occur with water.

At 32.9°F, water reaches it maximum density, meaning that its volume, for a given unit
of mass, is at a minimum. Below that temperature, it "should" (if it were like most types
of matter) continue to decrease in volume per unit of mass, but, in fact, it steadily begins
to expand. Thus, it is less dense, with a greater volume per unit of mass, when it reaches
the freezing point. It is for this reason that when pipes freeze in winter, they often burst—
explaining why a radiator filled with water could be a serious problem in very cold
weather.
In addition, this unusual behavior with regard to thermal expansion and contraction
explains why ice floats: solid water is less dense than the liquid water below it. As a
result, frozen water stays at the top of a lake in winter; since ice is a poor conductor of
heat, energy cannot escape from the water below it in sufficient amounts to freeze the rest
of the lake water. Thus, the water below the ice stays liquid, preserving plant and animal
life.

Gases

The Gas Laws

Gases also expand on heating. Their volume expansion is very much greater than that of
liquids. If a gas is heated at constant pressure, its volume increases and if a gas is heated
at constant volume, its pressure increases due to expansion. Similarly, if we have to study
the variation of pressure with temperature, its volume must be kept constant.

Some effects of Expansion due to Heating

• A small gap is provided between the rails on railway tracks to make provision for
the expansion of rails during summer, otherwise, the rails may bulge due to
expansion causing train accidents.

• If a metal wire is used in a pendulum, its length changes with temperature. During
summer, its length increases and thus, increasing its period and the pendulum
clocks go slow in summer. During winter, the length decreases and hence, its
period decreases. Thus, the pendulum clocks go fast during summer.

• In a cartwheel, the iron tyres are manufactured so that their diameter is slightly
less than the wooden wheel on which they are fitted. The iron tyres are heated
first. They expand and can be fitted easily into the wooden wheels. When cooled
the iron wheels firmly grip the wooden wheels.

• Soda or soft drink bottles are made of thick glass. The reason for this is as
follows-when a gas is heated in a closed container, its pressure increases. In a
soda bottle this is exactly what happens, during summer heat, the soda bottles
may explode due to pressure increase inside the bottle. Hence soda bottles are
made of thick glass to withstand pressure increase.

Anomalous expansion of Water:

Generally, all liquids expand due to heating. But water behaves in a peculiar way when
heated from 0oC to 4oC. On heating from 0oC up to 4oC its volume decreases, reaches a
minimum at 4oC such that the density of water is maximum at 4oC on heating further,
water behaves like any other liquid. Similarly, during cooling process, the volume of
water decreases up to 4oC, reaches a minimum at 4oC, if further cooled up to 0o C, its
volume increases instead of decreasing and hence, density of water at 0oC is lesser than
that at 4oC. Water freezes to ice at 0oC. Being less dense than water, ice floats on water.
Beyond 4oC, water behaves like any other liquid.

This unique feature of water between 0 and 40C, is a boon to aquatic animals. Let us see
how-
In cold countries and Polar Regions during winter, the temperature goes below 00C. In
lakes and ponds when water at the surface reaches 40C, it is densest and goes to the
bottom. When the temperature further reduces, only surface layers of water freeze
whereas at the bottom water re Gases also expand on heating. Their volume expansion is
very much greater than that of liquids. If a gas is heated at constant pressure, its volume
increases and if a gas is heated at constant volume, its pressure increases due to
expansion. Similarly, if we have to study the variation of pressure with temperature, its
volume must be kept constant.

Some effects of Expansion due to Heating

• A small gap is provided between the rails on railway tracks to make provision for
the expansion of rails during summer, otherwise, the rails may bulge due to
expansion causing train accidents.

• If a metal wire is used in a pendulum, its length changes with temperature. During
summer, its length increases and thus, increasing its period and the pendulum
clocks go slow in summer. During winter, the length decreases and hence, its
period decreases. Thus, the pendulum clocks go fast during summer.

• In a cartwheel, the iron tyres are manufactured so that their diameter is slightly
less than the wooden wheel on which they are fitted. The iron tyres are heated
first. They expand and can be fitted easily into the wooden wheels. When cooled
the iron wheels firmly grip the wooden wheels.

• Soda or soft drink bottles are made of thick glass. The reason for this is as
follows-when a gas is heated in a closed container, its pressure increases. In a
soda bottle this is exactly what happens, during summer heat, the soda bottles
may explode due to pressure increase inside the bottle. Hence soda bottles are
made of thick glass to withstand pressure increase.

Anomalous expansion of Water:

Generally, all liquids expand due to heating. But water behaves in a peculiar way when
heated from 0oC to 4oC. On heating from 0oC up to 4oC its volume decreases, reaches a
minimum at 4oC such that the density of water is maximum at 4oC on heating further,
water behaves like any other liquid. Similarly, during cooling process, the volume of
water decreases up to 4oC, reaches a minimum at 4oC, if further cooled up to 0o C, its
volume increases instead of decreasing and hence, density of water at 0oC is lesser than
that at 4oC. Water freezes to ice at 0oC. Being less dense than water, ice floats on water.
Beyond 4oC, water behaves like any other liquid.
This unique feature of water between 0 and 40C, is a boon to aquatic animals. Let us see
how-

In cold countries and Polar Regions during winter, the temperature goes below 00C. In
lakes and ponds when water at the surface reaches 40C, it is densest and goes to the
bottom. When the temperature further reduces, only surface layers of water freeze
whereas at the bottom water remains at 40C. Aquatic animals live comfortably in water at
40C ,whereas, outside temperatures may go much less than that.

mains at 40C. Aquatic animals live comfortably in water at 40C ,whereas, outside
temperatures may go much less than that.

As discussed, liquids expand by larger factors than solids do. Given the increasing
amount of molecular kinetic energy for a liquid as compared to a solid, and for a gas as
compared to a liquid, it should not be surprising, then, to learn that gases respond to
changes in temperature with a volume change even greater than that of liquids. Of course,
where a gas is concerned, "volume" is more difficult to measure, because a gas simply
expands to fill its container. In order for the term to have any meaning, pressure and
temperature must be specified as well.

A number of the gas laws describe the three parameters for gases: volume, temperature,
and pressure. Boyle's law, for example, holds that in conditions of constant temperature,
an inverse relationship exists between the volume and pressure of a gas: the greater the
pressure, the less the volume, and vice versa. Even more relevant to the subject of
thermal expansion is Charles's law.

Charles's law states that when pressure is kept constant, there is a direct relationship
between volume and temperature. As a gas heats up, its volume increases, and when it
cools down, its volume reduces accordingly. Thus, if an air mattress is filled in an air-
conditioned room, and the mattress is then taken to the beach on a hot day, the air inside
will expand. Depending on how much its volume increases, the expansion of the hot air
could cause the mattress to "pop."

Volume Gas Thermometers

Whereas liquids and solids vary significantly with regard to their expansion coefficients,
most gases follow more or less the same pattern of expansion in response to increases in
temperature. The predictable behavior of gases in these situations led to the development
of the constant gas thermometer, a highly reliable instrument against which other
thermometers—including those containing mercury (see below)—are often gauged.

In a volume gas thermometer, an empty container is attached to a glass tube containing


mercury. As gas is released into the empty container, this causes the column of mercury
to move upward. The difference between the former position of the mercury and its
position after the introduction of the gas shows the difference between normal
atmospheric pressure and the pressure of the gas in the container. It is, then, possible to
use the changes in volume on the part of the gas as a measure of temperature. The
response of most gases, under conditions of low pressure, to changes in temperature is so
uniform that volume gas thermometers are often used to calibrate other types of
thermometers.

Solids

Many solids are made up of crystals, regular shapes composed of molecules joined to one
another as though on springs. A spring that is pulled back, just before it is released, is an
example of potential energy, or the energy that an object possesses by virtue of its
position. For a crystalline solid at room temperature, potential energy and spacing
between molecules are relatively low. But as temperature increases and the solid expands,
the space between molecules increases—as does the potential energy in the solid.

In fact, the responses of solids to changes in temperature tend to be more dramatic, at


least when they are seen in daily life, than are the behaviors of liquids or gases under
conditions of thermal expansion. Of course, solids actually respond less to changes in
temperature than fluids do; but since they are solids, people expect their contours to be
immovable. Thus, when the volume of a solid changes as a result of an increase in
thermal energy, the outcome is more noteworthy.

Jar Lids and Power Lines

An everyday example of thermal expansion can be seen in the kitchen. Almost everyone
has had the experience of trying unsuccessfully to budge a tight metal lid on a glass
container, and after running hot water over the lid, finding that it gives way and opens at
last. The reason for this is that the high-temperature water causes the metal lid to expand.
On the other hand, glass—as noted earlier—has a low coefficient of expansion.
Otherwise, it would expand with the lid, which would defeat the purpose of running hot
water over it. If glass jars had a high coefficient of expansion, they would deform when
exposed to relatively low levels of heat.

Another example of thermal expansion in a solid is the sagging of electrical power lines
on a hot day. This happens because heat causes them to expand, and, thus, there is a
greater length of power line extending from pole to pole than under lower temperature
conditions. It is highly unlikely, of course, that the heat of summer could be so great as to
pose a danger of power lines breaking; on the other hand, heat can create a serious threat
with regard to larger structures.

Expansion Joints

Most large bridges include expansion joints, which look rather like two metal combs
facing one another, their teeth interlocking. When heat causes the bridge to expand
during the sunlight hours of a hot day, the two sides of the expansion joint move toward
one another; then, as the bridge cools down after dark, they begin gradually to retract.
Thus the bridge has a built-in safety zone; otherwise, it would have no room for
expansion or contraction in response to temperature changes. As for the use of the comb
shape, this staggers the gap between the two sides of the expansion joint, thus minimizing
the bump motorists experience as they drive over it.

Expansion joints of a different design can also be found in highways, and on "highways"
of rail. Thermal expansion is a particularly serious problem where railroad tracks are
concerned, since the tracks on which the trains run are made of steel. Steel, as noted
earlier, expands by a factor of 12 parts in 1 million for every Celsius degree change in
temperature, and while this may not seem like much, it can create a serious problem
under conditions of high temperature.

Most tracks are built from pieces of steel supported by wooden ties, and laid with a gap
between the ends. This gap provides a buffer for thermal expansion, but there is another
matter to consider: the tracks are bolted to the wooden ties, and if the steel expands too
much, it could pull out these bolts. Hence, instead of being placed in a hole the same size
as the bolt, the bolts are fitted in slots, so that there is room for the track to slide in place
slowly when the temperature rises.

Such an arrangement works agreeably for trains that run at ordinary speeds: their wheels
merely make a noise as they pass over the gaps, which are rarely wider than 0.5 in (0.013
m). A high-speed train, however, cannot travel over irregular track; therefore, tracks for
high-speed trains are laid under conditions of relatively high tension. Hydraulic
equipment is used to pull sections of the track taut; then, once the track is secured in
place along the cross ties, the tension is distributed down the length of the track.

Thermometers and Thermostats

Mercury in Thermometers

A thermometer gauges temperature by measuring a temperature-dependent property. A


thermostat, by contrast, is a device for adjusting the temperature of a heating or cooling
system. Both use the principle of thermal expansion in their operation. As noted in the
example of the metal lid and glass jar above, glass expands little with changes in
temperature; therefore, it makes an ideal container for the mercury in a thermometer. As
for mercury, it is an ideal thermometric medium—that is, a material used to gauge
temperature—for several reasons. Among these is a high boiling point, and a highly
predictable, uniform response to changes in temperature.

In a typical mercury thermometer, mercury is placed in a long, narrow sealed tube called
a capillary. Because it expands at a much faster rate than the glass capillary, mercury
rises and falls with the temperature. A thermometer is calibrated by measuring the
difference in height between mercury at the freezing point of water, and mercury at the
boiling point of water. The interval between these two points is then divided into equal
increments in accordance with one of the well-known temperature scales.

The Bimetallic Strip in Thermostats


In a thermostat, the central component is a bimetallic strip, consisting of thin strips of two
different metals placed back to back. One of these metals is of a kind that possesses a
high coefficient of linear expansion, while the other metal has a low coefficient. A
temperature increase will cause the side with a higher coefficient to expand more than the
side that is less responsive to temperature changes. As a result, the bimetallic strip will
bend to one side.

When the strip bends far enough, it will close an electrical circuit, and, thus, direct the air
conditioner to go into action. By adjusting the thermostat, one varies the distance that the
bimetallic strip must be bent in order to close the circuit. Once the air in the room reaches
the desired temperature, the high-coefficient metal will begin to contract, and the
bimetallic strip will straighten. This will cause an opening of the electrical circuit,
disengaging the air conditioner.

In cold weather, when the temperature-control system is geared toward heating rather
than cooling, the bimetallic strip acts in much the same way—only this time, the high-
coefficient metal contracts with cold, engaging the heater. Another type of thermostat
uses the expansion of a vapor rather than a solid. In this case, heating of the vapor causes
it to expand, pushing on a set of brass bellows and closing the circuit, thus, engaging the
air conditioner.