Heat is one interesting type of energy. Not only does it sustain life, make us comfortable and assist us prepare ours food, yet understanding its properties is an essential to numerous fields of clinical research. Because that example, learning how warmth is transferred and also the level to which various materials deserve to exchange thermal power governs every little thing from structure heaters and understanding seasonal adjust to sending ships right into space.

You are watching: A material that conducts thermal energy well

Heat deserve to only be transferred through three means: conduction, convection and also radiation. The these, conduction is probably the many common, and also occurs frequently in nature. In short, it is the move of warmth through physical contact. That occurs as soon as you press your hand ~ above a home window pane, when you ar a pot the water ~ above an energetic element, and when you ar an iron in the fire.

This transport occurs at the molecular level — indigenous one body to an additional — once heat power is soaked up by a surface and causes the molecules of that surface to move much more quickly. In the process, lock bump into their neighbors and transfer the energy to them, a procedure which proceeds as lengthy as warm is still being added.


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Heat conduction wake up through any material, represented right here by a rectangle-shaped bar. The price at which that is transfers relies in part on the thickness of the product (rep. By A). Credit: Boundless

The procedure of warm conduction relies on four an easy factors: the temperature gradient, the cross ar of the products involved, their path length, and also the properties of those materials.

A temperature gradient is a physical amount that defines in i beg your pardon direction and also at what price the temperature changes in a particular location. Temperature always flows indigenous the hottest come coldest source, as result of the reality that cold is nothing however the lack of warmth energy. This transfer in between bodies proceeds until the temperature distinction decays, and also a state well-known as heat equilibrium occurs.

Cross-section and path size are likewise important factors. The higher the size the the material connected in the transfer, the more heat is necessary to heat it. Also, the much more surface area the is exposed to open up air, the better likelihood for heat loss. So much shorter objects with a smaller sized cross-section are the best means of minimizing the loss of warmth energy.


Last, but certainly no least, is the physical properties the the products involved. Basically, once it pertains to conducting heat, not all building materials are developed equal. Steels and rock are considered good conductors since they have the right to speedily move heat, whereas products like wood, paper, air, and cloth are bad conductors of heat.

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Conduction, as demonstrated by heater a metal rod with a flame. Credit: Thomson higher Education

These conductive properties room rated based upon a “coefficient” which is measured relative to silver. In this respect, silver has a coefficient of heat conduction of 100, vice versa, other products are ranked lower. These incorporate copper (92), stole (11), water (0.12), and also wood (0.03). At the opposite end of the spectrum is a perfect vacuum, i beg your pardon is i can not qualify of conducting heat, and is thus ranked at zero.

Materials that are bad conductors of warmth are dubbed insulators. Air, which has a conduction coefficient that .006, is superb insulator because it is qualified of being had within an fastened space. This is why man-made insulators manipulate air compartments, such as double-pane glass windows which are supplied for cutting heating bills. Basically, they act together buffers against heat loss.


Feather, fur, and also natural fibers space all instances of organic insulators. These are products that allows birds, mammals and human beings to stay warm. Sea otters, for example, live in s waters that space often very cold and also their luxuriously thick hair keeps them warm. Various other sea mammals prefer sea lions, whales and also penguins count on special layers the fat (aka. Blubber) – a really poor conductor – come prevent warm loss through their skin.

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This check out of the nose ar of room shuttle Discovery, construct of heat-resistance carbon-composites. Credit: NASA

This exact same logic is used to insulating homes, buildings, and also even spacecraft. In this cases, approaches involve one of two people trapped waiting pockets in between walls, fiber-glass (which traps air within it) or high-density foam. Spacecraft space a special case, and also use insulation in the form of foam, reinforced carbon composite material, and also silica fiber tiles. Every one of these are bad conductors of heat, and also therefore prevent warm from being lost in space and likewise prevent the extreme temperatures brought about by atmospheric reentry indigenous entering the crew cabin.

See this video demonstration of the warmth tiles ~ above the space Shuttle:


The regulations governing conduction of warm are very comparable to Ohm’s Law, which governs electric conduction. In this case, a an excellent conductor is a material that allows electrical current (i.e. Electrons) come pass with it without lot trouble. An electrical insulator, by contrast, is any material who internal electrical charges do not circulation freely, and therefore make it very hard to conduct an electric current under the influence of an electric field.

In many cases, products that are poor conductors of warm are also poor conductors of electricity. For instance, copper is good at conducting both heat and also electricity, hence why copper wires are offered so widely in the produce of electronics. Gold and silver are even better, and where price is no an issue, these materials are provided in the construction of electric circuits together well.

And once one is looking come “ground” a charge (i.e. Neutralize it), lock send it v a physical connection to the Earth, wherein the charge is lost. This is usual with electric circuits where exposed steel is a factor, ensuring that world who coincidentally come into call are no electrocuted.


Insulating materials, such together rubber ~ above the soles the shoes, is worn come ensure that people working with sensitive products or around electrical resources are safeguarded from electrical charges. Various other insulating products like glass, polymers, or porcelain are commonly used on strength lines and also high-voltage power transmitters to keep power flow to the circuits (and nothing else!)

In short, conduction comes down to the deliver of warm or the carry of an electrical charge. Both happen as a result of a substance’s capability to enable molecules to carry energy throughout them.

We have written plenty of articles around conduction for world Today. Check out this article on the very first law the thermodynamics, or this one on revolution electricity.


If you’d like more info on the conduction, inspect out BBC’s article around Heat Transfer, and here’s a link to The Physics Hypertextbook.

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We’ve also recorded whole episode of Astronomy Cast around Magnetism – episode 42: Magnetism Everywhere.