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HOME > LEARNING RESOURCES > WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN... > WHATS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CONDUCTION, CONVECTION, AND RADIATION?

WhatstheDifferenceBetweenConduction,Convection,
andRadiation?
Letstakeacloserlookatheattransferandthethreemainmethodsof
deployment.
CarlosGonzalez|MachineDesign
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Oct30,2015
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Heattransferisthephysicalactofthermalenergybeingexchangedbetweentwosystems
bydissipatingheat.Temperatureandtheflowofheatarethebasicprinciplesofheat
transfer.Theamountofthermalenergyavailableisdeterminedbythetemperature,and
theheatflowrepresentsmovementofthermalenergy.

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Onamicroscopicscale,thekineticenergyofmoleculesisthedirectrelationtothermal
energy.Astemperaturerises,themoleculesincreaseinthermalagitationmanifestedin
linearmotionandvibration.Regionsthatcontainhigherkineticenergytransferthe
energytoregionswithlowerkineticenergy.Simplyput,heattransfercanbegroupedinto
threebroadcategories:conduction,convection,andradiation.

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Theimageabove,providedbyNASA,highlightshowallthreeheattransfermethods(conduction,convection,
andradiation)workinthesameenvironment.

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Conduction
Conductiontransfersheatviadirectmolecularcollision.Anareaofgreaterkineticenergy
willtransferthermalenergytoanareawithlowerkineticenergy.Higherspeedparticles
willcollidewithslowerspeedparticles.Theslowerspeedparticleswillincreaseinkinetic
energyasaresult.Conductionisthemostcommonformofheattransferandoccursvia
physicalcontact.Exampleswouldbetoplaceyourhandagainstawindoworplacemetal
intoanopenflame.
Theprocessofheatconductiondependsonthefollowingfactors:temperaturegradient,
crosssectionofthematerial,lengthofthetravelpath,andphysicalmaterialproperties.
Thetemperaturegradientisthephysicalquantitythatdescribesthedirectionandrateof
heattravel.Temperatureflowwillalwaysoccurfromhottesttocoldestor,asstated
before,highertolowerkineticenergy.Oncetheresthermalequilibriumbetweenthetwo
temperaturedifferences,thethermaltransferstops.
Crosssectionandpathoftravelbothplayanimportantpartinconduction.Thegreater
thesizeandlengthofanobject,themoreenergythatsrequiredtoheatit.Andthe
greaterthesurfaceareathatsexposed,themoreheatislost.Smallerobjectswithsmall
crosssectionshaveminimalheatloss.

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Physicalpropertiesdeterminewhichmaterialstransferheatbetterthanothers.
Specifically,thethermalconductivitycoefficientdictatesthatametalmaterialwill
conductheatbetterthanclothwhenitcomestoconduction.Thefollowingequation
calculatestherateofconduction:

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Q=[kA(ThotTcold)]/d
whereQ=heattransferredperunittimek=thermalconductivityofthebarrierA=
heattransferareaThot=temperatureofthehotregionTcold=temperatureofthecold
regionandd=thicknessofthebarrier.

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AmodernofuseofconductionisbeingdevelopedbyDr.GyungMinChoiattheUniversityofIllinois.Dr.Choi
usesspincurrenttogeneratespintransfertorque.Spintransfertorqueisthetransferofthespinangular
momentumgeneratedbytheconductionelectronstothemagnetizationofaferromagnet.Insteadofusing
magneticfields,thisallowsthemanipulationofnanomagnetswithspincurrents.(CourtesyofAlexJerez,
ImagingTechnologyGroup,TheBeckmanInstitute)

Convection
Whenafluid,suchasairoraliquid,isheatedandthentravelsawayfromthesource,it
carriesthethermalenergyalong.Thistypeofheattransferiscalledconvection.Thefluid
aboveahotsurfaceexpands,becomeslessdense,andrises.
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WhatstheDifferenceBetweenConduction,Convection,andRadiation?|What'stheDifferenceBetween...contentfromMachineDesign

Atthemolecularlevel,themoleculesexpanduponintroductionofthermalenergy.As
temperatureofthegivenfluidmassincreases,thevolumeofthefluidmustincreaseby
samefactor.Thiseffectonthefluidcausesdisplacement.Astheimmediatehotairrises,it
pushesdenser,colderairdown.Thisseriesofeventsrepresentshowconvectioncurrents
areformed.Theequationforconvectionratesiscalculatedasfollows:
Q=hcA(TsTf)
whereQ=heattransferredperunittimehc=convectiveheattransfercoefficientA=
heattransferareaofthesurfaceTs=temperatureofthesurfaceandTf=temperature
ofthefluid.
Radiation
Thermalradiationgeneratesfromthe
emissionofelectromagneticwaves.These
wavescarrytheenergyawayfromthe
emittingobject.Radiationoccurs
throughavacuumoranytransparent
medium(eithersolidorfluid).Thermal
radiationisthedirectresultofrandom
movementsofatomsandmoleculesin
matter.Movementofthecharged
protonsandelectronsresultsinthe
emissionofelectromagneticradiation.
Allmaterialsradiatethermalenergy
basedontheirtemperature.Thehotter
anobject,themoreitwillradiate.The
sunisaclearexampleofheatradiation
thattransfersheatacrossthesolar
system.Atnormalroomtemperatures,
objectsradiateasinfraredwaves.The
temperatureoftheobjectaffectsthe
wavelengthandfrequencyofthe
Aspaceheaterisaclassicconvectionexample.Asthe
radiatedwaves.Astemperature
spaceheaterheatstheairsurroundingitnearthe
floor,theairwillincreaseintemperature,expand,and
increases,thewavelengthswithinthe
risetothetopoftheroom.Thisforcesdownthe
spectraoftheemittedradiationdecrease
coolerairsothatitbecomesheated,thuscreatinga
convectioncurrent.
andemitshorterwavelengthswith
higherfrequencyradiation.Thermal
radiationiscalculatedbyusingtheStefanBoltzmannlaw:
P=eA(Tr4Tc4)
whereP=netradiatedpowerA=radiatingareaTr=temperatureoftheradiatorTc=
temperatureofsurroundingse=emissivityand=Stefansconstant.
Emissivityforanidealradiatorhasavalueof1.Commonmaterialshaveloweremissivity
values.Anodizedaluminumhasanemissivityvalueof0.9whilecoppersis0.04.

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WhatstheDifferenceBetweenConduction,Convection,andRadiation?|What'stheDifferenceBetween...contentfromMachineDesign

Solarpanelsharnessthethermalradiationfromthesuntocreateusableandrenewableenergy.Efficiencyof
solarpanelshasriseninrecentyears.Infact,thosecurrentlybeingproducedbySolarCity,acompanyco
foundedbyElonMusk,areat22%.

Emissivityisdefinedasanobjectseffectivenessinemittingenergyasthermalradiation.It
istheratio,atagiventemperature,ofthethermalradiationfromasurfacetothe
radiationfromanidealblacksurfaceasdeterminedbytheStefanBoltzmannlaw.
Stefansconstantisdeterminedbyconstantsofnature.Thevalueoftheconstantisas
follows:
=(25k4)/(15c2h3)=5.670373108Wm2K4
wherek=Boltzmannsconstanth=Plancksconstantsandc=speedoflightina
vacuum.

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