Students often use 'heat' to refer to both the extra energy in a hotter object and the energy spontaneously transferred from a hotter to a colder object due to 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)

    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)

    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.

    View Resource


  • 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.

    Two concurrently published papers detail the results of a long-term US-based study revealing students' challenges with the ideal gas law and misconceptions about microscopic processes. These identified misconceptions guided university course enhancements over several years.

    Paper digest

  • 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) 1151–1160.

    The study proposes supplementing lectures with active learning strategies to address thermodynamics and equilibrium misconceptions among 19-22-year-old students.

    Paper digest

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