Many students use the term ‘heat’ to mean both the additional energy of an object at a higher temperature and the energy that is transferred spontaneously from a hotter to a colder object because of the temperature difference

Energy and Thermal Physics


Very few are aware that these two meanings lead to inconsistencies and cannot both be correct.

Resources to Address This

  • Warming things up (11-14)

    Ref - SPT En05 PN01

    All of these three aspects of warming up are linked and all happen together.

    • The temperature of the warmed object rises.
    • The associated thermal store of energy fills a little.
    • More energy is shared amongst the particles in the object being warmed, and they move around more.


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  • Note on "warming things up" and "thermal energy" (11-16)

    Ref - Practical Physics; Energy; Thermal energy; Thermal transfers; Notes on "warming things up" and "thermal energy".

    A hot body has a high temperature and can store a lot of energy thermally. This hot body can be put into contact with a cooler body and some of the energy of the hotter body is transferred to the cooler body to increase the energy stored thermally, and the temperature, of the cooler body. The word ‘heat’ has been used as a similar word in physics to the word ‘work’. However, a better approach is to say that heating and working both transfer energy, and can change the temperature of a body or system.

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  • Kautz, C. H., Heron, P. R. L, Loverude, M. E. and Mc Dermott, L. C. () Student understanding of the gas law, part 1: A macroscopic perspective. American Journal of Physics, 73, (11)

    1055 - 1063.

    Review sheet

  • Thomas, P. L. and Schwenz, R. W. () College Physical Chemistry Students’ Conceptions of Equilibrium and Fundamental Thermodynamics. Journal of research in science teaching, 35, (10)


    Review sheet


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