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How does water boil? Why do lights come on when we flip the switch? These normal occurrences are made possible by a process called conduction. In this lesson, we will talk about conduction and some examples.

Defining Conduction

Why do our clothes get hot when we iron them? This is because heat is transferred from our hot iron to our clothes when they come in contact with each other. How is it that we have electricity in our homes? This is because the electric current travels through wires that conduct electricity. How is it possible to transfer heat between objects and for us to have electricity? This is all because of a very important process called conduction.

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Conduction is the transfer of energy in the form of heat or electricity from one atom to another within an object by direct contact. Conduction occurs in solids, liquids, and gases. However, solids transfer energy most efficiently since the molecules in solids are most tightly packed, and the molecules are closer together, as shown in this figure. For liquids and gases, the density of the particles are generally lower than those of solids and the particles are farther apart, so the energy transfer is less efficient.

Solid, Liquid and Gas Particles

There are two main types of conduction:Conduction of heat occurs when molecules increase in temperature; they vibrate, and this vibration and movement passes the heat energy to the surrounding molecules. Some examples of conduction of heat are accidentally touching a hot pot, or when a heating pad is applied to you directly and warms your muscles.

Conduction of electricity occurs due to the movement of electrically charged particles through a medium. This movement can result in an electric current, which may be carried by electrons or ions. An example of electrical conduction is when you accidentally get electrocuted when you touch a live wire because your body contains water, which is a conductor of electricity. Another example is when electricity passes through wires, which are conductors, so we can watch TV or use a computer.

Nonmetallic Conductors

Other materials, such as rubber, wood, glass, and dry cotton, are not good conductors because the electrons within these materials cannot move about freely. Therefore, heat and energy are not transferred as efficiently within the material.

Sometimes, we wear rubber gloves so that we can prevent ourselves from getting electrocuted. When we cover wires, we also use electric tape, which is made of plastic, which is also a poor conductor. This also helps prevent electric shocks.

Lesson Summary

Conduction occurs when energy is transferred through an object due to the movement of particle due to contact. The energy that is transferred is in the form of heat or electricity, so the two types of conduction that we discussed are conduction of heat and conduction of electricity.

There are materials that conduct heat and electricity efficiently, mostly metals, such as copper, aluminum, silver, and iron. Some nonmetals, such as graphite, concrete, and dirty water, also serve as conductors, but they’re not as efficient as metals. The degree of conductivity is different among varying materials. Some materials, such as wood and rubber, are very poor conductors.

Key Terms

The two types of conduction
The two types of conduction
  • Conduction: the transfer of energy in the form of heat or electricity from one atom to another in an object due to direct contact
  • Conduction of heat: happens when molecules vibrate due to an increase in temperature, which passes the heat energy to the surrounding molecules
  • Conduction of electricity: occurs due to the movement of electrically charged particles through a medium
  • Good conductors: materials that allow the flow of charged particles and electrical energy to freely pass through them

Learning Outcomes

Once you are finished, you should be able to:

  • Describe what conduction is and identify the two types
  • Explain what makes a good conductor
  • List examples of good conductors

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