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Chemistry LibreTexts

4.3: Exothermic and Endothermic Processes

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  • Units of Heat

    Heat flow is measured in one of two common units: the calorie and the joule. The joule \(\left( \text{J} \right)\) is the SI unit of energy. The calorie is familiar because it is commonly used when referring to the amount of energy contained within food. A calorie \(\left( \text{cal} \right)\) is the quantity of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by \(1^\text{o} \text{C}\). For example, raising the temperature of \(100 \: \text{g}\) of water from \(20^\text{o} \text{C}\) to \(22^\text{o} \text{C}\) would require \(100 \times 2 = 200 \: \text{cal}\).

    Calories contained within food are actually kilocalories \(\left( \text{kcal} \right)\). In other words, if a certain snack contains 85 food calories, it actually contains \(85 \: \text{kcal}\) or \(85,000 \: \text{cal}\). In order to make the distinction, the dietary calorie is written with a capital C.

    \[1 \: \text{kilocalorie} = 1 \: \text{Calorie} = 1000 \: \text{calories}\]

    To say that the snack "contains" 85 Calories means that \(85 \: \text{kcal}\) of energy are released when that snack is processed by the human body.

    Heat changes in chemical reactions are typically measured in joules rather than calories. The conversion between a joule and a calorie is shown below.

    \[1 \: \text{J} = 0.2390 \: \text{cal or} \: 1 \: \text{cal} = 4.184 \: \text{J}\]

    We can calculate the amount of heat released in kilojoules when a 400 Calorie hamburger is digested:

    \[400. \: \text{Cal} = 400. \: \text{kcal} \times \frac{4.184 \: \text{kJ}}{1 \: \text{kcal}} = 1.67 \times 10^3 \: \text{kJ}\]


    • Common units for heat include Joules (J)  and calories (cal); 1 cal = 1.184 J
    • 1 food Calorie (Cal) = 1000 cal

    Contributors and Attributions

    • CK-12 Foundation by Sharon Bewick, Richard Parsons, Therese Forsythe, Shonna Robinson, and Jean Dupon.