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Overview of Heat Transfer

Categories: HeatThermodynamics

Heat transfer, also known as heat flow, heat exchange, or simply heat, is the transfer of thermal energy from one region of matter or a physical system to another. When an object is at a different temperature from its surroundings, heat transfer occurs so that the body and the surroundings reach the same temperature at thermal equilibrium. Such spontaneous heat transfer always occurs from a region of high temperature to another region of lower temperature, as required by the second law of thermodynamics.

In engineering, energy transfer by heat between objects is classified as occurring by heat conduction, also called diffusion, of two objects in contact; fluid convection, which is the mixing of hot and cold fluid regions; or thermal radiation, the transmission of electromagnetic radiation described by black body theory. Engineers also consider the transfer of mass of differing chemical species, either cold or hot, to achieve heat transfer.



In heat transfer, conduction (or heat conduction) is the transfer of thermal energy between neighboring molecules in a substance due to a temperature gradient.

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Heat transfer always goes from a region of higher temperature to a region of lower temperature, and acts to equalize the temperature differences. 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.

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In gases and liquids, conduction is due to the collisions and diffusion of the molecules during their random motion.

Steady state conduction is a form of conduction that happens when the temperature difference driving the conduction is constant, so that after an equilibration time, the spatial distribution of temperatures in the conducting object does not change any further. In steady state conduction, the amount of heat entering a section is equal to amount of heat coming out. Transient conduction occurs when the temperature within an object changes as a function of time. Analysis of transient systems is more complex and often calls for the application of approximation theories or numerical analysis by computer.


Convective heat transfer, or convection, is the transfer of heat from one place to another by the movement of fluids. (In physics, the term fluid means any substance that deforms under shear stress; it includes liquids, gases, plasmas, and some plastic solids.) Bulk motion of the fluid enhances the heat transfer between the solid surface and the fluid. Convection is usually the dominant form of heat transfer in liquids and gases. Although often discussed as a third method of heat transfer, convection actually describes the combined effects of conduction and fluid flow.

Free, or natural, convection occurs when the fluid motion is caused by buoyancy forces that result from density variations due to variations of temperature in the fluid. Forced convection is when the fluid is forced to flow over the surface by external means—such as fans, stirrers, and pumps—creating an artificially induced convection current. Convection is described by Newton’s law of cooling: “The rate of heat loss of a body is proportional to the difference in temperatures between the body and its surroundings.”


Form of heat transfer that takes place between two bodies that aren’t in physical contact. Describes a process in which energetic particles or waves travel through a medium or space. There are two distinct types of radiation; ionizing and non-ionizing. The word radiation is commonly used in reference to ionizing radiation only (i.e., having sufficient energy to ionize an atom), but it may also refer to non-ionizing radiation (e.g., radio waves or visible light). The energy radiates (i.e., travels outward in straight lines in all directions) from its source.

This geometry naturally leads to a system of measurements and physical units that are equally applicable to all types of radiation. Both ionizing and non-ionizing radiation can be harmful to organisms and can result in changes to the natural environmentThermal radiation is the transfer of heat energy through empty space by means of electromagnetic waves. All objects with a temperature above absolute zero radiate energy. No medium is necessary for radiation to occur, for it is transferred by electromagnetic waves; radiation takes place even in, and through, a perfect vacuum. For instance, the energy from the Sun travels through the vacuum of space before warming the Earth. Radiation is the only form of heat transfer that can occur in the absence of any form of medium (i.e., through a vacuum).

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Overview of Heat Transfer. (2017, Feb 15). Retrieved from

Overview of Heat Transfer

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