Heat Transfer Lesson for Kids: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Nick Rogers
Campfires can keep you warm at night, and cold days can be tough without a jacket. What makes these things hot and cold? How do the flickering flames of a fire pass their heat energy on to you and me? Learn all about heat transfer in this lesson on hot science!

The Science of Hot and Cold

Heat is one of the coolest things that scientists study. Actually, 'cold' is simply the absence of heat. But what does it really mean to be hot or cold? How is heat transferred from one object to another? In this lesson, we will talk about how heat works, and the different ways that it can move around.

Before we can understand heat, you'll need to know what an atom is. Did you know that everything is made of tiny particles that we call atoms? It is! When something is hot, its atoms have more energy, and they tend to move around faster. Heat is the transfer of this energy, and it always moves in the direction of hot to cold.

Types of Heat Transfer

If heat comes from the energy of moving particles, then how does heat get transferred from one thing to another? There are three different ways that heat can move around from one place to another: radiation, convection, and conduction.

Three types of heat transfer in a kettle
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Radiation

The first way that heat is transferred is probably the one that you know best. When an object is hot, it gives off some of its heat energy in the form of electromagnetic waves. Think of the heat coming from the sun: it is given off as light waves that travel all the way to Earth, and then pass that energy onto you. The light waves vibrate the atoms inside you, and when those atoms start to move, you heat up. A similar thing happens when you walk outside on a cold day, but this time, you are the one giving off the heat. The next time someone mentions a heat wave, you can tell them that they probably mean an 'electromagnetic wave of heat energy'.

Conduction

Conduction is a way that heat is transferred within an object, or between two objects that are touching. For example, if you place one end of a metal rod into a fire, that end will immediately get hot. Sometime later, the other end outside the fire will start to heat up as well. The movement of heat down the rod is called conduction. Energy is transferred through collisions of the atoms inside the rod, and the faster-moving atoms in the fire eventually shift their energy down the rod to the slower-moving (colder) atoms at the other end.

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