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A hot body emits radiation that will be absorbed by another body. The amount of energy
radiated depends on its surface area, the absolute temperature of the body and a property
depending on the nature of the surface of the body. This property is called emissivity and is
denoted by . This is the ratio of the energy radiated by unit area of the given surface to that
radiated by unit area of a perfectly black surface when both the surfaces are at the same
temperature. The energy radiated per second, Q, is given by

Q =  A T4 (II.2.2.1)
Here A is the surface area of the body.  is called the Stefan-Boltzmann constant and is one of
the important constants of physics.

 = (k4/ ħ3c2 (II.2.2.2)

k, ħ (= h/2) and c are the Boltzman constant, the Planck’s constant divided by 2 and the
velocity of light in vacuum respectively.

A body can lose heat to its surroundings by conduction, convection and radiation. To
measure the Stefan’s constant we must reduce the fraction of heat lost by conduction and
convection to a few percent of the total heat lost, so that radiation dominates. This is achieved
by the following steps: (a) blackening the surface of the body and that of the enclosure to make
 have the maximum value of nearly unity, (b) increasing the resistance to heat conduction by
using very thin wires for the electrical measurements and by using a nylon thread of poor
conductivity to suspend the sample and (c) using a closed enclosure to reduce convection losses
due to currents of air.




Figure II.2.2.1: A schematic of the experimental arrangement

Figure II.2.2.1 shows a schematic of the set up for measuring Stefan’s constant. A is a light
weight aluminum cylinder about 3 cm long and 2 cm in outer diameter with wall thickness of
0.5 mm. To heat the sample we require a heater which can generate about 1 W power. A
simple way of making the heater is the following. A Teflon tube of outer diameter 10 mm and
wall thickness 0.5 mm is cut to a length of 2.6 cm. A series of five 1mm diameter holes are
made around the circumference of the tube at the top and bottom. Five 100-Ohm ¼ W resistors
are taken and the leads of each resistor are inserted into the top and bottom holes in the Teflon
tube so that the five resistors are connected in parallel and lying flat on their length on the
surface of the Teflon tube. All the leads will be inside the Teflon tube. All incoming leads are
twisted together and all outgoing leads are twisted together. The total resistance of the heater is
20 (ie. 100/5) ohms and it can generate up to 1 W of heat. A pair of copper leads is soldered to
the pair of twisted leads. These are insulated by winding a thin Teflon tape around them and
are brought out from the top of the aluminum cylinder. Two or three layers of thin Teflon tape
are wound on the outer surface of the resistors. The Teflon tube is placed within the aluminum
cylinder and the inter-space between the wall of the aluminum cylinder and the outer wall of the
Teflon tube is filled with aluminum foil to provide a good thermal link.
Heater current leads

Teflon cylinder
Outer Al 100  ¼ W resistors connected
Cylinder in parallel

Aluminum foil

Figure II.2.2.2: Mounting of the heater in the Al cylinder

A copper constantan thermocouple is made by taking about 5 cm of insulated constantan wire

(about SW 40) and two long insulated copper wires of the same gauge. After removing the
insulation of the wires to a length of 3 to 5 mm at the ends, two copper constantan junctions are
made by twisting the bare wires. When the solder is just melting on the soldering iron the two
junctions are pushed into the molten solder and pulled out. A drop of superglue (a very quick
and strong rapid-cure adhesive available in small tubes) is applied on the Aluminum cylinder
near the middle where it is desired to place one of the thermocouple junctions. In a few
minutes the liquid dries over the surface to form a thin electrically insulating layer. A junction
of the thermocouple is placed at this point and a thin insulated copper wire is tied around it to
hold it tight against the cylinder. Another drop of superglue is applied on the thermocouple
junction. One should be careful not to apply too much superglue. If the glue forms a thick
layer between the junction and the surface of the aluminium cup, there will be an appreciable
temperature drop in this layer of glue. The thermocouple will measure a temperature lower
than the actual temperature of the aluminium surface. After a few minutes the superglue sets
and forms a tight joint between the thermocouple and the aluminium cylinder. The aluminum
cylinder can then be painted black on the outside with enamel paint. The paint must be allowed
to dry. The cylinder is hung by a thin nylon thread from the top lid of a small stainless steel
can E. The inside of the can is also painted black. On the top lid D banana sockets are fixed

for the current leads and a RCA socket for the thermocouple leads. The second junction of the
thermocouple is fixed to the lid D of the stainless steel can E.

The copper constantan thermocouple has a thermo-electric power  of 40 micro-volts per

degree Kelvin near room temperature. For a 10-degree difference in temperature of the two
junctions the thermo-emf will be about 400 microvolts. This is amplified a hundred times by
the DC amplifier described in Section I.

The Stefan’s constant box is shown in Figure II.2.2.3.

Figure II.2.2.3 Stefan’s constant box

3. Apparatus required:

Constant current source, DC differential amplifier, Stefan’s constant box, and a multimeter
reading in DC 200 mV range.


The connection diagram for the Stefan’s constant experiment is shown in Figure II.2.2.4. A
constant current source in the high current mode is connected to the heater terminals of the
Stefan’s constant box. The two switches on the constant current source are put in the high
current mode. The input terminals I1 of a DC differential amplifier are connected to the RCA
socket for thermocouple outlet on the Stefan’s constant box. The band switch on the DC
differential amplifier is set at I1 and the toggle switch in the position X100. The output
terminals of the DC differential amplifier are connected to a digital multimeter (DMM) set to
range DC 200 mV.


Figure II.2.2.4 Connection diagram for Stefan’s constant experiment

Adjust the current through the heater at 200 mA. This is the maximum current you should
pass through the heater. Do not exceed this current. A voltage will appear on the DMM
which will increase in magnitude with time. Wait for one hour for the steady state to be
reached. Note the value of the output DC voltage in milli- volts V+. (It is assumed that this
value is positive. Otherwise toggle the reversing switch to get a positive voltage). The
reversing switch on the differential amplifier is thrown to the other position and the reading V-
is noted. The amplified thermo emf corrected for the offset of the amplifier is
Vcorr = (V+ - V-)/2 (II.2.2.3)

Then reduce the current in steps of twenty mA till you reach 140 mA. For each value of
current wait for 45 minutes before taking a reading of V+ and V-.

The total power dissipated in the resistor is

Q = I2R (II.2.2.4)

where I is the current through the heater and R is the resistance of the heater. The resistance of
the heater is marked on the Stefan’s constant box.

The temperature difference between the cylinder and the surrounding can is

T2  T1 = ( Vcorr in milli-volts/   )x103= Vcorrin mV/ (II.2.2.5)

Here is taken as 40 micro-volts per degree Kelvin and  = 100 (amplification of Differential
amplifier). The factor 103 arises because we are dividing millivolts by microvolts. The room
temperature T1 is measured with a mercury thermometer. Knowing T1 and T = (T1T2) from
measurement, T2 is calculated. All temperatures should be expressed in Kelvin.

If all the heat is lost only by radiation then

Q =  A (T24 T14) (II.2.2.6)

Here  is the emissivity of the black surface. For different types of black paints the emissivity
varies between 0.9 and 0.95, the latter being the value for enamel paints. We take 0.95 as the
emissivity of the black surface since we have used enamel paint.

The area A of the aluminium cup radiating heat is

A = 2r (r+l) (II.2.2.7)

where r is the radius and l the length of the cylinder. The values of r and l are given on the
stainless steel box.

A graph is plotted with (T14 – T24) on the X axis and Q on the Y-axis. A straight line is fitted
to the points on a computer and the slope of the straight line is found. The Stefan’s constant is
calculated from the slope knowing the area A of the aluminum cylinder.

A sample set of readings is given below on Table II.2.2.1. In this table the Column 1 gives
the current through the heater in milli-amperes. The heater power Q in watts is given in
column 2. Column 3 gives V+ in mV. Column 4 gives V- in mV. Column 5 gives Vcorr in mV.
From this the temperature difference T = T2 – T1 is calculated by dividing Vcorrbyand this
is given in column 6. Knowing T1, the temperature T2 of the surface of the aluminum block is
calculated and given in column 7. Column 8 gives (T24T14) in units of 109 K4. Figure II.4.2.4
below gives a plot of Q against (T24T14).

Table II.4.2.1

T1 299 K
Dia of Al 2x10 m
Height 3.3x10 m
-3 2
Area 2.7x10 m
Resistance 20.1 Ohms

0 0 4
amp Watt mV mV mV K K K
4 4
I Q V+ V- Vcorr T T2 T2 -T1
0.203 0.8283 180 -176 178 44.5 343.5 5.93E+09
0.182 0.6658 162 -155 158.5 38.66 337.66 5.01E+09
0.161 0.521 127 -123 125 30.49 329.49 3.79E+09
0.141 0.3996 101 -94 97.5 23.78 322.78 2.86E+09
0.121 0.2943 77 -68 72.5 17.68 316.68 2.06E+09
0.101 0.205 54 -48 51 12.44 311.44 1.42E+09


0.8 -10 4
slope 1.382x10 W/K
Heater power Q in W






1 2 3 4 5 6
4 4 9 4
(T1 - T2 ) in 10 K

Figure II.2.2.4 Plot of Q against (T14 – T24)

From the figure the slope of the curve is 1.382x10-10 W/K4. The Stefan’s constant is
calculated from the area of surface (given in Table II.2.2.1) and the emissivity of black paint

taken to be 0.95. It comes out to be 5.38x10-8 W/m2K4 in reasonable agreement with the actual
value 5.67x10-8 W/m2K4.

The sources of systematic errors in this experiment are the following:

1. The emissivity of the black paint used may be lower than 0.95. This is the most
important source.
2. Some heat may be lost by conduction and convection.

If one would like to measure the emissivity of a polished surface, one may have a second set up
with a thin copper cylinder with the outer surface electroplated with Nickel. The above
measurements can be repeated. Knowing the value of  the emissivity of the electroplated
nickel surface can be found.


In all heat experiments time constant plays an important role. The temperature grows from its
initial value at room temperature to its final value as

T1 + (t) = T1 +  exp (t/)] (II.2.2.8)

where is (T2-T1), the steady state value of the increase in temperature and  is the
relaxation time. Theoretically the steady state temperature is attained after infinite time. But
in practice, if one waits for a time t longer than 5, the temperature is within 1% of its steady
state value. It is necessary to understand the factors governing  so that the experiment can be
designed with a value of  of the order of 10 minutes. Then the reading of the thermocouple for
a given heater power can be taken after forty five minutes to one hour and the experiment can
be repeated for at least four different heat inputs within three hours.

At a time t, part of the heat input goes to raise the temperature of the block and part is lost as
radiation, conduction and convection. If the temperature rise is not too large we may lump all
the heat loss mechanisms into a factor CThis is the Newton’s law of cooling.

msd/dt + CQ (II.2.2.9)

Here ms is the total thermal capacity of the metal block including the thermal capacity of the
heater and thermometer.

The solution to this equation is

 (t) = {Q/C} [1-exp {C/ms) t}] (II.2.2.10)

From this equation we identify Q/C as  () and (ms/C) as . For reducing the relaxation time
 we should reduce the mass of the cup. That is why it is preferable to use a lightweight cup
made of aluminum or thin copper.

To calculate what mass we should choose we assume heat is lost only by radiation. Then

C = A [(T1+)4 T14]  4AT13 

when  is small. So

C  4AT13 (II.2.2.12)
 ms/( 4AT13) (II.2.2.13)

Taking  to be 5.7x10-8 W/m2K4, to be 1, T1 to be 300K, A = 2x10-8 m2

C  0.0125
So if is to be less than 600 s,

ms < Cx600 = 7.5 J/K

The specific heat of aluminum is 0.910 J/gK, means that the mass of the aluminum cylinder
should be less than about 8 gm. A cylinder of 2 cm diameter, length l of 3 cm and wall
thickness t of 0.5 mm will have a volume (2rl + r2)t = 1.09 cc. Density of Aluminum is 2.7
g/cc. The mass of the cylinder in the experiment is about 2.9 g. To this must be added the
weight of the Teflon cylinder and the five resistors. This is the reason why you should wait for
at least 45 minutes for steady state to be reached.


1. Why is the inside of the wall of a thermos flask silvered?

2. Liquid nitrogen is stored in an evacuated double walled stainless steel container. The
radius of the outer of the two walls is 10 cm and its length is 1 meter. The wall is at
room temperature (300 K). The container is filled with liquid nitrogen. Its boiling
point is 77 K. Assuming the emissivity of stainless steel to be 0.1, calculate the heat
reaching the liquid nitrogen from the outer wall. If the latent heat of vaporization of
Liquid nitrogen is 160 KiloJoules/litre of liquid nitrogen calculate the boil off rate of
liquid nitrogen.

3. If we put 10 layers of aluminized mylar foils between the outer wall and the inner wall
of the doubled wall vessel will it reduce the heat radiation reaching the liquid nitrogen?
If the emissivity of the foils is taken to be the same as the emissivity of stainless steel by
what factor will the heat reaching liquid nitrogen change?