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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, andwith one notable exception discussed belowa 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 sunin
other words, if the car is not driven after the tank is filledthe gasoline might very well
expand in volume faster than the fuel tank, overflowing onto the pavement.


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 increasesas 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.