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Melting, or fusion, is a physical process that results in the phase change of a substance from a solid to a liquid. The internal energy of a substance is increased, typically by the application of heat or pressure, resulting in a rise of its temperature to the melting point, at which the rigid ordering of molecular entities in the solid breaks down to a less-ordered state and the solid liquefies. An object that has melted completely is molten.


Thermodynamics of melting

When a substances melts and the solid and liquid phases are in an equilibrium, it maintains a constant temperature, the melting point. The energy used for melting is a latent heat. This characterizes the process of melting as a first-order phase transition.

From a thermodynamics point of view, at the melting point the change in Gibbs free energy (ΔG) of the material is zero, but the enthalpy (H) and the entropy (S) of the material are increasing (ΔHS > 0). Melting occurs when the Gibbs free energy of the liquid becomes lower than the solid for that material.


Under a standard set of conditions, the melting point of a substance is a characteristic property. The melting point is often equal to the freezing point. However, under carefully created conditions, supercooling or superheating past the melting or freezing point can occur. Water on a very clean glass surface will often supercool several degrees below the freezing point without freezing. Fine emulsions of pure water have been cooled to -38 degrees Celsius without nucleation to form ice.[citation needed]. Nucleation occurs due to fluctuations in the properties of the material. If the material is kept still there is often nothing (such a physical vibration) to trigger this change, and supercooling (or superheating) may occur. Thermodynamically, the supercooled liquid is in the metastable state with respect to the crystalline phase, and it is likely to crystallize suddenly.

Premelting (Surface Melting)

Premelting (also: Surface melting) describes the fact that, even below its melting point (Tm), quasi-liquid films can be observed on crystalline surfaces. The thickness of the film is temperature dependent. This effect is common for all crystalline materials. Premelting shows its effects in e.g. frost heave, the growth of snowflakes and, taking grain boundary interfaces into account, maybe even in the movement of glaciers.

Related concepts

In genetics, melting DNA means to separate the double-stranded DNA into two single strands by heating or the use of chemical agents, cf. Polymerase chain reaction.

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