# 1.2: Heat as a Mechanism to Transfer Energy

Learning Objectives

• To calculate changes in internal energy
• Distinguish the related properties of heat, thermal energy, and temperature
• Define and distinguish specific heat and heat capacity, and describe the physical implications of both
• Perform calculations involving heat, specific heat, and temperature change

Thermal energy is kinetic energy associated with the random motion of atoms and molecules. Temperature is a quantitative measure of “hot” or “cold.” When the atoms and molecules in an object are moving or vibrating quickly, they have a higher average kinetic energy (KE), and we say that the object is “hot.” When the atoms and molecules are moving slowly, they have lower KE, and we say that the object is “cold” (Figure $$\PageIndex{1}$$). Assuming that no chemical reaction or phase change (such as melting or vaporizing) occurs, increasing the amount of thermal energy in a sample of matter will cause its temperature to increase. And, assuming that no chemical reaction or phase change (such as condensation or freezing) occurs, decreasing the amount of thermal energy in a sample of matter will cause its temperature to decrease.

Heat (q) is the transfer of thermal energy between two bodies at different temperatures. Heat flow (a redundant term, but one commonly used) increases the thermal energy of one body and decreases the thermal energy of the other. Suppose we initially have a high temperature (and high thermal energy) substance (H) and a low temperature (and low thermal energy) substance (L). The atoms and molecules in H have a higher average KE than those in L. If we place substance H in contact with substance L, the thermal energy will flow spontaneously from substance H to substance L. The temperature of substance H will decrease, as will the average KE of its molecules; the temperature of substance L will increase, along with the average KE of its molecules. Heat flow will continue until the two substances are at the same temperature (Figure $$\PageIndex{2}$$).

Matter undergoing chemical reactions and physical changes can release or absorb heat. A change that releases heat is called an exothermic process. For example, the combustion reaction that occurs when using an oxyacetylene torch is an exothermic process—this process also releases energy in the form of light as evidenced by the torch’s flame (Figure $$\PageIndex{3a}$$). A reaction or change that absorbs heat is an endothermic process. A cold pack used to treat muscle strains provides an example of an endothermic process. When the substances in the cold pack (water and a salt like ammonium nitrate) are brought together, the resulting process absorbs heat, leading to the sensation of cold.

Heat does not "Flow" nor does Heat "Transfer"

The definition of heat is the transfer of thermal energy between two bodies at different temperatures, since temperature is a measure of the average kinetic energy of a sample, this means that heat is the flow of kinetic energy from one spot to another. Therefore, heat is the process of the energy flow and a specific system; a system does not "contain" heat, therefore heat cannot be "transferred" nor does not "flow."

The concept of heat flow originates from the incorrect theory in the 19th century called caloric theory that postulated that heat was connect to a mythical fluid that flows from hotter systems to colder systems. Unfortunately, the vernacular usage of terms involving heat flowing is ingrained in the English language and it is difficulty to avoid them in scientific discussions of thermodynamics. Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize that the important concept that heat does not flow.

## Direction of Heat "Flow": Endothermic vs. Exothermic Processes

The reaction of powdered aluminum with iron(III) oxide, known as the thermite reaction, generates an enormous amount of heat—enough, in fact, to melt steel. The balanced chemical equation for the reaction is as follows:

$\ce{2Al(s) + Fe_2O_3(s) \rightarrow 2Fe(s) + Al_2O_3(s) }\label{12.2.1}$

We can also write this chemical equation as

$\ce{2Al(s) + Fe_2O_3(s) \rightarrow 2Fe(s) + Al_2O_3(s)} + \text{heat} \label{12.2.2}$

to indicate that heat is one of the products. Chemical equations in which heat is shown as either a reactant or a product are called thermochemical equations. In this reaction, the system consists of aluminum, iron, and oxygen atoms; everything else, including the container, makes up the surroundings. During the reaction, so much heat is produced that the iron liquefies. Eventually, the system cools; the iron solidifies as heat is transferred to the surroundings. A process in which heat ($$q$$) is transferred from a system to its surroundings is described as exothermic. By convention, $$q < 0$$ for an exothermic reaction.

When you hold an ice cube in your hand, heat from the surroundings (including your hand) is transferred to the system (the ice), causing the ice to melt and your hand to become cold. We can describe this process by the following thermochemical equation:

$\text{heat} + \ce{H_2O(s) \rightarrow H_2O(l)} \label{12.2.3}$

When heat is transferred to a system from its surroundings, the process is endothermic. By convention, $$q > 0$$ for an endothermic reaction. It is poor form to have a $$heat$$ term in the chemical reaction like in Equations $$\ref{12.2.2}$$ and $$\ref{12.2.3}$$ since heat is it not a true species in the reaction. However, this is a convenient approach to represent exothermic and endothermic behavior and is commonly used by chemists.

By convention, $$q < 0$$ for an exothermic reaction and $$q > 0$$ for an endothermic reaction.

Exercise $$\PageIndex{1}$$

Decide whether the following are endothermic or exothermic processes

1. water evaporates off a shower door
2. an acid tablet being added to a pool and the surrounding water heats up
3. $$\ce{NH_4Cl}$$ is dissolved in water and the solution cools
Hint

During an endothermic process heat is absorbed from surroundings, causing them to cool, so in every case where there is cooling there is most likely an endothermic process taking place. For exothermic reactions energy is being released to the surroundings and so the surroundings feel like they have been heated by the process.

endothermic

exothermic

endothermic

Most substances expand as their temperature increases and contract as their temperature decreases. This property can be used to measure temperature changes, as shown in Figure $$\PageIndex{4}$$. The operation of many thermometers depends on the expansion and contraction of substances in response to temperature changes.