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What is Conduction in Science? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Defining Conduction
  • 2:22 Good Conductors of…
  • 3:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nissa Garcia

Nissa has a masters degree in chemistry and has taught high school science and college level chemistry.

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.

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.

Conduction of Heat and Electricity

The picture on the left shows what happens if you leave a metal spoon inside a cup with hot liquid. The spoon is at room temperature at first when we touch it, but as the spoon has longer contact with the hot water, the spoon becomes hot to the touch. This is because the heat from the liquid is transferred to the spoon due to conduction of heat. The picture on the right shows a light bulb that is turned on because electricity travels through the wires due to the conduction of electricity.

Good Conductors of Heat and Electricity

In general, if an object is a good conductor of heat, it usually follows that the object is also a good conductor of electricity. Materials are classified as good conductors if they allow the flow of charged particles and electrical energy to freely pass through them.

Some examples of good conductors are generally metals, such as silver, copper, iron, and aluminum. Their degree of conductivity differs based on the type of metal. Metals are generally good conductors because at least one electron per atom is free to move about between atoms and transfer heat and electricity. In the list of conductors, silver is generally the best conductor.

Metallic Conductors

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