Heat conduction

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In heat transfer, conduction (or heat conduction) is the transfer of thermal energy between regions of matter due to a temperature gradient. Heat always flows from a region of higher temperature to a region of lower temperature, and results in the elimination of temperature differences by establishing thermal equilibrium. Conduction takes place in all forms of matter, viz. solids, liquids, gases and plasmas, but does not require any bulk motion of matter. In solids, it is due to the combination of vibrations of the molecules in a lattice or phonons with the energy transported by free electrons. In gases and liquids, conduction is due to the collisions and diffusion of the molecules during their random motion.

In the engineering sciences, heat transfer includes the processes of thermal radiation, convection, and sometimes mass transfer and often more than one of these processes occurs in a given situation.

Contents

Overview

On a microscopic scale, conduction occurs as rapidly moving or vibrating atoms and molecules interact with neighboring particles, transferring some of their kinetic energy. Heat is transferred by conduction when adjacent atoms vibrate against one another, or as electrons move from one atom to another. Conduction is the most significant means of heat transfer within a solid or between solid objects in thermal contact. Conduction is greater in solids because the network of relatively fixed spacial relationships between atoms helps to transfer energy between them by vibration.

As density decreases so does conduction. Therefore, fluids (and especially gases) are less conductive. This is due to the large distance between atoms in a gas: fewer collisions between atoms means less conduction. Conductivity of gases increases with temperature. Conductivity increases with increasing pressure from vacuum up to a critical point that the density of the gas is such that molecules of the gas may be expected to collide with each other before they transfer heat from one surface to another. After this point conductivity increases only slightly with increasing pressure and density.