Heat

in Physics

Heat is a form of energy. It is produced only by the conversion of one of the other forms of energy. Heat may also be defined as the total kinetic energy of the molecules of any substance.

Some forms of energy which can be converted into heat energy are as follows:


  • Mechanical Energy. This includes all methods of producing increased motion of molecules such as friction, impact of bodies, or compression of gases.
  • Electrical Energy. Electrical energy is converted to heat energy when an electric current flows through any form of resistance such as an electric iron, electric light, or an electric blanket.
  • Chemical Energy. Most forms of chemical reaction convert stored potential energy into heat. Some examples are the explosive effects of gunpowder, the burning of oil or wood, and the combining of oxygen and grease.
  • Radiant Energy. Electromagnetic waves of certain frequencies produce heat when they are absorbed by the bodies they strike such as x-rays, light rays, and infrared rays.
  • Nuclear Energy. Energy stored in the nucleus of atoms is released during the process of nuclear fission in a nuclear reactor or atomic explosion.
  • The Sun. All heat energy can be directly or indirectly traced to the nuclear reactions occurring in the sun.

When a gas is compressed, work is done and the gas becomes warm or hot. Conversely, when a gas under high pressure is allowed to expand, the expanding gas becomes cool. In the first case, work was converted into energy in the form of heat; in the second case heat energy was expended. Since heat is given off or absorbed, there must be a relationship between heat energy and work. Also, when two surfaces are rubbed together, the friction develops heat. However, work was required to cause the heat, and by experimentation, it has been shown that the work required and the amount of heat produced by friction are proportional. Thus, heat can be regarded as a form of energy.

According to this theory of heat as a form of energy, the molecules, atoms, and electrons in all bodies are in a continual state of motion. In a hot body, these small particles possess relatively large amounts of kinetic energy, but in cooler bodies they have less. Because the small particles are given motion, and hence kinetic energy, work must be done to slide one body over the other. Mechanical energy apparently is transformed, and what we know as heat is really kinetic energy of the small molecular subdivisions of matter.