# Chapter 3. Thermal Energy

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1 Chapter 3 Thermal Energy In order to apply energy conservation to a falling ball or a roller coaster in the previous chapter, we had to assume that friction (with the air or the track) was negligible. Introduce some friction, and the falling ball s kinetic energy doesn t grow quite as quickly, while the roller coaster coasts to a stop, even on a level track. The effects of friction demonstrate that conservation of mechanical energy is not a universal law of physics. But besides draining objects of their mechanical energy, friction also has another effect: It raises the temperature of objects. Everyone knows that you can warm up cold hands by briskly rubbing them together. Tires skidding along the road result in burnt rubber. A power drill s bit can quickly become too hot to touch. And although everyday falling objects don t often become noticeably warmer, the space shuttle requires state-of-the-art heat shields to prevent damage during its long, fast descent into the atmosphere. Careful experiments show that the temperature increase of an object and its surroundings due to friction is directly related to the amount of mechanical energy lost. The most famous experimental demonstration of this fact was carried out by James Joule in the 1840 s. Joule hung some weights from pulleys so that as they fell, they turned a paddle-wheel apparatus immersed in a bucket of water. The friction between the paddles and the water raised the water s temperature by an amount that was directly proportional to the distance that the weights fell. In our modern system of units, Joule found that raising the temperature of a kilogram of water by one degree Celsius required a loss in mechanical (gravitational) energy of approximately 4200 joules. Joule therefore proposed that this mechanical energy is not actually lost, but converted into a new type of energy: thermal energy, which manifests itself as an increase in temperature. The temperature change caused by depositing a given amount of thermal energy in an object depends not only on the object s mass, but also on what it is made of. Raising the temperature of a kilogram of water by one degree Celsius requires 4200 joules, but for a kilogram of wood, only about 1700 joules are required. For iron the value is only 450 joules, while for lead, a mere 130 joules will suffice to accomplish the same one-degree temperature increase (per kilogram). Each of these numbers is called the specific heat capacity of the corresponding substance. In general, the specific heat capacity is the energy required to raise the temperature, per kilogram of material, per degree of temperature increase: Specific heat capacity = thermal energy input (mass) (temperature change). (3.1) To write this equation in symbols, I ll use C for specific heat capacity, T for tem- 1

2 2 Chapter 3 Thermal Energy perature, and E t for thermal energy. But the equation involves not T itself but the change in T during the energy-input process. The standard symbol for change is the Greek letter delta ( ), so the change in T is written T. Similarly, the thermal energy input is the amount by which the thermal energy changes, E t. Using these abbrevations, our equation becomes C = E t m T. (3.2) Often it s useful to rearrange this equation to solve for the change in thermal energy: E t = m C T. (3.3) For example, to raise the temperature of a 10-kg wooden chair from 20 C to 25 C would require an energy input of E t = m C T = (10 kg)(1700 J/kg C)(5 C) = 85, 000 J. (3.4) (Note that the official units of C are joules per kilogram per degree Celsius.) I should point out that the term specific heat capacity is in some ways a misnomer. It is most certainly not a maximum capacity in any sense: There is no limit on how much thermal energy a substance can absorb. Specific heat capacity is more analogous to the concept of capacity to hold one s liquor: a large capacity simply implies that it takes more liquor (or energy) to produce a noticeable change in behavior (or temperature). The use of the word heat in specific heat capacity is also somewhat misleading, as we ll see when we get to the technical definition of heat below. (The word specific simply means per unit mass. ) Although there s nothing fundamentally special about water, it is essential to us humans. Moreover, our modern society uses quite a bit of energy to heat water, for various purposes. It s therefore a good idea to memorize the value of the specific heat capacity of water: C water = 4200 J kg C = 1 kcal kg C = 1 Btu lb F, (3.5) where the last two values follow from the definition of the kilocalorie and the definition of the Btu. Because quantities of water are often measured by volume instead of by mass, it s also useful to know that a kilogram of water occupies a volume of one liter (a little over a quart), while a pound of water occupies a volume of one pint (two cups, or half a quart). A gallon of water equals eight pints (pounds), or 3.8 liters (kilograms). Exercise 3.1. Suppose you wish to make a nice hot cup of tea. Estimate the amount of energy required to heat the water, first in Btu s and then in kilowatt-hours. Use any reasonable values for the initial and final temperatures of the water.

3 Chapter 3 Thermal Energy 3 Exercise 3.2. Suppose that you wish to have your hot cup of tea while camping in the wilderness, far from any convenient source of thermal energy, even firewood. No problem: You can simply put the cold water into a thermos bottle and shake the bottle vigorously, converting kinetic energy to thermal energy. Suppose that during each shake the water travels a distance of half a meter, and you shake it four times per second. What is the water s average speed during a shake? Roughly what is its maximum kinetic energy? Assuming that all this kinetic energy gets converted into thermal energy by the splashing water, how much will its temperature increase during one shake? How many shakes are needed to bring it up to boiling temperature? About how long must you continue shaking before enjoying your hot tea? Exercise 3.3. A typical residential water heater holds 40 gallons. About how much energy (in Btu s) is required for it to heat a full tank of water? (You ll need to estimate the temperatures of your cold and hot tap water. If possible, use a thermometer to measure these temperatures.) Exercise 3.4. Calculate the cost of the amount of energy computed in the previous problem, assuming that the energy comes from burning natural gas, which costs \$7/MBtu (or use the actual cost from your utility bill). Exercise 3.5. The human body contains a great deal of water, so for purposes of estimation, we can assume that its specific heat capacity is the same as that of water. Estimate the change in temperature that would result from putting one jelly donut (250 kcal) of thermal energy into your body. Comment on the result. Exercise 3.6. The water in Malan s Falls drops a vertical distance of 300 feet. Consider just one kilogram of this water. How much gravitational energy does it lose during the fall? If all this energy gets converted into thermal energy of the water by the splashing at the bottom of the falls, by how much will the water s temperature increase? Comment on the result. Exercise 3.7. Abel Knaebbel, professional stunt man and amateur physicist, dives from a 30-meter-high platform into a tub containing three cubic meters of water. Assuming that Abel s mass is 80 kg, how much gravitational energy does he lose during the dive? Now assume that all of this energy is converted into thermal energy by the splash, raising the temperature of the water. By how much does the water s temperature increase? (Hint: A cubic meter of water is 1000 liters.) Phase Changes When water boils, it continues to absorb energy (say, from the stove top), yet its temperature doesn t increase. Instead, the added energy causes the water to convert from a liquid into a gas (steam). This process is an exception to the rule that adding thermal energy raises an object s temperature. Any other phase change, in which a substance converts from one phase (solid, liquid, or gas) to another, is also an exception. During a phase change, T is zero but E t is nonzero, so the specific heat capacity ( E t /m T ) is infinite (or undefined, as the mathematicians say). But the total amount of thermal energy required to cause a phase change, per kilogram of material, is still an important quantity. For instance, melting ice requires 80 kcal

5 Chapter 3 Thermal Energy 5 How much thermal energy is this? Assuming that all this thermal energy goes into evaporating water from your skin, how much water should you drink during the hike, to replace the lost fluids? Heat vs. Work Perhaps the most interesting property of thermal energy is that it spontaneously flows from one object to another, provided that the first object is hotter than the second. That s why ice melts in a warm room, fingers freeze on cold metal, and sunlight continuously warms the cool earth. When energy spontaneously flows from a hotter object to a cooler object, we refer to that energy (while in transit) as heat. Heat is to be contrasted with work, which is any other type of energy transfer (such as exerting a force through a distance, as discussed in the previous chapter). This use of the word heat takes quite a bit of getting used to. For instance, we should never say that a cup of boiling water contains lots of heat, because once the energy is in the water, it doesn t matter whether the energy entered as heat or as work. If you put the water over a stovetop, then energy enters as heat. But you could vigorously shake or stir the water, with the same end result (hot water), accomplished this time by performing mechanical work. Or you could put the cup of water into a microwave oven: Since the flow of microwave energy from the magnetron source into the water is not caused by the magnetron being hotter than the water, we should classify this energy transfer as work (in this case, electrical work), not as heat. Any transfer of energy from one object to another can be classified as either heat or work. This means that whenever the energy content of an object changes, that change must have been caused by heat flow, or work, or some combination of the two. For instance, if you add 2 MJ of heat to a pot of water and simultaneously perform 1 MJ of work, then the water s energy must increase by 3 MJ. In general, or in terms of symbols, change in energy = (heat added) + (work done), (3.8) E = H + W, (3.9) where E is the total energy content of an object, H is the amount of heat added to it, and W is the amount of work done on it (during some time period of interest). If heat or work is extracted from the object, then we simply use a negative value for H or W, and the same equation applies. Exercise Should the flow of electrical energy from the powerplant to your kitchen toaster be classified as heat or work? What about the flow of energy from the toaster s wires to your toast?

6 6 Chapter 3 Thermal Energy The Microscopic View of Thermal Energy You now know how to calculate, or measure, the amount of thermal energy involved in various everyday processes such as boiling water. Still, you may be wondering, what is thermal energy? During the 1900 s, many scientists asked this question, and eventually arrived at an answer. Let s think some more about friction. Smooth surfaces, rubbed together, slide past each other with very little conversion of mechanical energy to thermal energy. Rough surfaces, on the other hand, exert a lot of frictional force on each other and convert mechanical energy into thermal energy much more rapidly. Why is this? Well, the bumps on the surfaces must be pushing against each other, then bending over, and finally springing back up as the move on. This pushing, bending, and springing converts the kinetic energy, from the overall motion, first into elastic energy and then partially back into kinetic energy of the tiny vibrations of the bumps. In other words, a uniform kinetic energy, with an object moving all in the same direction, is converted into kinetic and elastic energy that is irregularly distributed throughout the surfaces. This irregularly distributed energy gets passed back and forth among the particles that make up the surfaces, until its distribution is essentially random. This randomly arranged kinetic and elastic energy is what we call thermal energy. The same sort of thing happens in Joule s paddle-wheel apparatus. The paddles stir the water, creating irregular whorls and vortices which rub against nearby bits of water, dispersing the energy into motions that are essentially random. Similarly, a parachute falling through the air sets up whorls and vortices that disperse energy into random air motions on a microscopic scale. Again, these random microscopic motions are what we call thermal energy. All matter is made of tiny building blocks, called atoms. In a solid, the atoms are locked together in a regular geometrical structure; in a liquid or gas, the atoms are usually connected into small groups called molecules. In either case, the random microscopic motion and stretching that we call thermal energy is merely the ordinary kinetic energy of the atoms, and/or the elastic energy of atoms pushing against their neighbors. It s interesting, though not really necessary, to ask how small these atoms and molecules are. The answer boggles the mind. The diameter of a typical atom is only a few tenths of a millionth of a millimeter, so it would take a few billion atoms, lined up in a row touching their neighbors, to span a full meter. A one-gallon jug of water measures about a billion atoms in each direction (width, depth, and height), so in total, it must contain roughly (1, 000, 000, 000) (1, 000, 000, 000) (1, 000, 000, 000) = (3.10) atoms. (Here simply means a 1 followed by 27 zeroes. Actually this estimate is a bit on the high side: the actual number of atoms in a gallon of water is only about 2/5 this much, or Each water molecule happens to contain three atoms (two of hydrogen and one of oxygen), so the number of molecules in a gallon of water is only a little over )

7 Chapter 3 Thermal Energy 7 Please understand that I m asking you to take my word for all this I haven t offered you any evidence that atoms and molecules even exist, much less told you how to measure their sizes. Many of the best scientists doubted the existence of atoms until about 100 years ago, when evidence from a variety of difficult experiments all seemed to indicate that atoms truly do exist and have the approximate size that I ve claimed. Unfortunately, the story of the discovery of atoms is one that we don t have time for now. But if you re willing to take my word for all this, here s one more beautiful fact: In any gas or liquid at room temperature or higher, the average kinetic energy per molecule, due to random thermal motions from place to place, depends only on the temperature, not on what the material is made out of. (The same is true in solids, but with some ambiguity over what constitutes a molecule an individual atom or a small group of them.) Furthermore, if we measure temperature on the absolute or kelvin (K) scale, so T = 0 means the lowest possible temperature ( absolute zero, or 273 C), then the formula that relates temperature to average kinetic energy is very simple: Average kinetic energy per atom = 3 2 k BT. (3.11) Here k B is a univeral constant called Boltzmann s constant. As you might expect, the numerical value of k B is tiny: J/K. (10 23 means 1 divided by 10 23, or a decimal point followed by 22 zeroes and then a 1.) Individual molecules never have very much kinetic energy, even at very high temperatures. At room temperature, roughly 300 K, the average kinetic energy per molecule comes out to 3 2 k BT = 3 2 ( J/K)(300 K) = J. Exercise Calculate the total kinetic energy in a gallon of water, due to thermal motions of the water molecules. The approximate number of molecules in a gallon of water is given in the text.

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