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One very common form of energy is heat energy. Strictly speaking, this is not an additional type of
energy, since heat energy is the kinetic energy of the individual molecules in a system. The faster the
average motion of the molecules, the higher the temperature of the system. Heat can do work. When
heat is applied to a liquid, the liquid may eventually boil, changing to a gas which takes up more
space than does the liquid. And the gas from a boiling liquid can exert great force. It drives the
turbines that generate the electricity of large cities.
The great importance of heat energy arises from the fact that most of the times that energy is used to
do work, part of the energy is wasted as heat. For example, when a hammer is used to pound a nail
into a board, much of the energy of the hammer goes to heating up the nail, the head of the hammer,
and the parts of the board that touch the nail. Only a small part of the total energy actually moves the
nail into the board.
The same is true of an automobile engine. Such engines would be much more efficient if all of the
chemical energy generated by the explosion of gasoline and air changed to the kinetic energy that
moves the pistons. Instead, much of the chemical energy changes to heat energy, which is of no help
in running the car.


Conduction is a point-by-point process of heat transfer. If one part of a body is heated by direct
contact with a source of heat, the neighboring parts become heated successively. Thus, as shown in
the diagram, if a metal rod is placed in a burner, heat travels along the rod by conduction. This may be
explained by the kinetic theory of matter. The molecules of the rod increase their energy of motion.
This violent motion is passed along the rod from molecule to molecule.
In considering the flow of heat by conduction, it is sometimes helpful to compare the flow of heat to
the flow of electricity. The temperature difference can be thought of as the pressure, or voltage, in an
electrical circuit. The ability of a substance to transfer heat (its thermal conductivity) can be compared
to electrical conductivity. When the temperature difference (or voltage) between two points is great,
the driving force to move heat (or current) is high. The quantity of heat (or current) transferred will
depend upon the temperature diffenence (or voltage difference) and the resistance to the flow of heat
(or current) offered by the conductor.


The method of heat transfer called convection depends upon the movement of the material which is
heated. It applies to free-moving substances; that is, liquids and gases. The motion is a result of
changes of density that accompany the heating process. Water in a tea kettle is heated by convection
(see diagram). A stove heats the air in a room by convection.
When a liquid or gas is heated, its density (mass per unit volume) decreases; that is, it becomes
lighter in weight. A warmer volume of gas will rise while a colder, and thus heavier, volume of gas
will descend. This process is described as natural convection. A familiar example of natural
convection is the circulation of air from a hot-air furnace. When a liquid or gas is moved from one
place to another by some mechanical force, the process is known as forced convection. The
circulation of air by an electric fan is an example of forced convection.

The third method of transferring heat energy from one place to another is called radiation. This
process begins when the internal energy of a system is converted into radiant energy at a source such
as a heater. This energy is transmitted by waves through space, just as the sun radiates heat outwards
through the solar system. Finally the radiant energy strikes a body where it is absorbed and converted
to internal energy. It then appears as heat. An electric heater produces radiant energy in this way (see
diagram). It may be absorbed, reflected, or transmitted by a body in its path. When the radiant energy
is absorbed, the internal energy of the body increases and its temperature rises.
All bodies, whether hot or cold, radiate energy. The hotter a body is, the more energy it radiates.
Furthermore all bodies receive radiation from other bodies. The exchange of radiant energy goes on
continuously. Thus a body at constant temperature has not stopped radiating. It is receiving energy at
the same rate that it is radiating energy. There is no change in internal energy or temperature.
Heat transfer by radiation is not proportional to the difference in temperature between the hot and
cold objects as it is in the case of heat transfer by conduction and convection. It is proportional to the
difference between the fourth powers of the absolute temperatures of the two objects. Thus heat
transfer by radiation is enormously more effective at high temperatures than at low temperatures.
Radiation transfer depends also upon the shape of the radiating object. (See also Radiation.)


The nature of heat has been a major subject for study since the beginnings of modern science. Early
investigators, including Galileo, Boyle, and Newton, explained heat as the motion of tiny particles of
which bodies are made. In the 18th century scientists advanced understanding by concentrating on the
flow of heat. It was thought of as a fluid, and experiments were made on the heat conductivity of
Antoine Lavoisier attempted to develop a quantitative theory of heat. He showed that the heat
produced in chemical reactions could be studied quantitatively. He developed a system of
thermodynamics that helped to explain the relations between heat and chemical reactions. Lavoisier's
theories were still based on the idea that heat was a fluid.

In 1798 the physicist Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford) revived the kinetic theory of heat. He
became interested in the subject by observing the vast quantities of heat produced by friction during
the boring of a cannon. Thompson decided that heat was not a material fluid but the result of a
conversion of energy. Forty years later, the British physicist James P. Joule also proved that heat was
a form of energy. Joule also proved the equivalence of mechanical energy and heat. He concluded that
the amount of work required to bring about any given energy exchange was independent of the kind
of work done, the rate of work, or the method of doing it. Therefore, in an isolated system, work can
be converted into heat at a ratio of one to one. This discovery later became known as the First Law of
Nicolas L.S. Carnot did research on heat that explained the mechanics of the flow of heat from a hot
region to a cooler region. Lord Kelvin used Carnot's concepts to develop his absolute thermodynamic
temperature scale. By applying mathematics, Willard Gibbs and Ludwig Boltzmann refined
thermodynamics into an exact science.