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Microscopic origin of heat


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Nuclear fusion in the Sun converts nuclear potential energy into available internal energy and keeps the temperature of the Sun very high. Consequently, heat is transported to Earth as electromagnetic radiation. This is the main source of energy for life on Earth.

In physics and chemistry, heat is energy transferred from one body to another by thermal interactions. The transfer of energy can occur in a variety of ways, among themconduction, radiation, and convection. Heat is not a property of a system or body, but instead is always associated with a process of some kind, and is synonymous with heat flow and heat transfer.

Heat flow from hotter to colder systems occurs spontaneously, and is always accompanied by an increase in entropy. In a heat engine, internal energy of bodies is harnessed to provide useful work. The second law of thermodynamics prohibits heat flow directly from cold to hot systems, but with the aid of a heat pump external work can be used to transport internal energy indirectly from a cold to a hot body.

Transfers of energy as heat are macroscopic processes. The origin and properties of heat can be understood through the statistical mechanics of microscopic constituents such as molecules and photons. For instance, heat flow can occur when the rapidly vibrating molecules in a high temperature body transfer some of their energy (by direct contact, radiation exchange, or other mechanisms) to the more slowly vibrating molecules in a lower temperature body.

The SI unit of heat is the joule. Heat can be measured by calorimetry,[5] or determined indirectly by calculations based on other quantities, relying for instance on the first law of thermodynamics. In calorimetry, the concepts of latent heat and of sensible heat are used. Latent heat produces changes of state without temperature change, while sensible heat produces temperature change.



Heat may flow across the boundary of the system and thus change its internal energy.

Heat in physics is defined as energy transferred by thermal interactions. Heat flows spontaneously from hotter to colder systems. When two systems come into thermal contact, they exchange energy through the microscopic interactions of their particles. When the systems are at different temperatures, the result is a spontaneous net flow of energy that continues until the temperatures are equal. At that point the net flow of energy is zero, and the systems are said to be in thermal equilibrium. Spontaneous heat transfer is an irreversible process.

The first law of thermodynamics states that the internal energy of an isolated system is conserved. To change the internal energy of a system, energy must be transferred to or from the system. For aclosed system, heat and work are the mechanisms by which energy can be transferred. For an open system, internal energy can be changed also by transfer of matter.[6] Work performed by a body is, by definition, an energy transfer from the body that is due to a change to external or mechanical parameters of the body, such as the volume, magnetization, and location of center of mass in a gravitational field.[7][8][9][10][11]

When energy is transferred to a body purely as heat, its internal energy increases. This additional energy is stored as kinetic and potential energy of the atoms and molecules in the body.[12] Heat itself is not stored within a body. Like work, it exists only as energy in transit from one body to another or between a body and its surroundings.

Microscopic origin of heat

Heat characterizes macroscopic systems and processes, but like other thermodynamic quantities it has a fundamental origin in statistical mechanics — the physics of the underlying microscopic degrees of freedom.

For example, within a range of temperature set by quantum effects, the temperature of a gas is proportional (via Boltzmann's constant kB) to the average kinetic energy of its molecules.[13] Heat transfer between a low and high temperature gas brought into contact arises due to the exchange of kinetic and potential energy in molecular collisions. As more and more molecules undergo collisions, their kinetic energy equilibrates to a distribution that corresponds to an intermediate temperature somewhere between the low and high initial temperatures of the two gases. An early and vague expression of this was by Francis Bacon. Precise and detailed versions of it were developed in the nineteenth century.[16]

For solids, conduction of heat occurs through collective motions of microscopic particles, such as phonons, or through the motion of mobile particles like conduction band electrons. As these excitations move around inside the solid and interact with it and each other, they transfer energy from higher to lower temperature regions, eventually leading to thermal equilibrium.


Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell, in his 1871 classic Theory of Heat, was one of many who began to build on the already established idea that heat has something to do with matter in motion. This was the same idea put forth by Sir Benjamin Thompson in 1798, who said he was only following up on the work of many others. One of Maxwell's recommended books was Heat as a Mode of Motion, by John Tyndall. Maxwell outlined four stipulations for the definition of heat:

· It is something which may be transferred from one body to another, according to the second law of thermodynamics.

· It is a measurable quantity, and thus treated mathematically.

· It cannot be treated as a substance, because it may be transformed into something that is not a substance, e.g., mechanical work.

· Heat is one of the forms of energy.

From empirically based ideas of heat, and from other empirical observations, the notions of internal energy and of entropy can be derived, so as to lead to the recognition of the first and second laws of thermodynamics. This was the way of the historical pioneers of thermodynamics.

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