What is Evaporative Cooling? - Definition & Process

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  • 0:00 Definition of…
  • 0:35 Evaporative Cooling Process
  • 1:14 Evaporative Cooling Importance
  • 2:16 Evaporative Cooling Problems
  • 2:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

This lesson is on evaporative cooling, which is how sweat keeps you cool. We will cover the definition of evaporative cooling and how the process works. We'll also examine why evaporative cooling is so important for life on Earth.

Definition of Evaporative Cooling

Picture a hot, sunny day. You're out for a run and pouring sweat. You get into your apartment and, even though you might not have air conditioning, you start to feel cool and might even get the chills. Why does sweating keep us cool, even in warm temperatures? The answer is evaporative cooling, the process of liquid water evaporating from a surface, which decreases the surface's temperature. When sweat evaporates from our skin, it usually leaves us feeling cool. The droplets of sweat on the person's arm in the image below help to regulate his temperature:

Droplets of sweat evaporate to help cool our skin.

Evaporative Cooling Process

To understand evaporative cooling, we also need to understand heat and evaporation. Water can hold a lot of heat without changing temperature. The heat stored in water is called latent heat. Water absorbs the heat from other surfaces, making them cooler. When water absorbs enough heat, it evaporates, or changes from a liquid to a gas. The gas leaves the surface, taking the extra heat with it. The result is a decreased amount of heat and thus, decreased temperature in the surface. This is how evaporative cooling works. Think of how boiling noodles on the stove works. The stove transfers heat to the water in the pot. The water absorbs the heat, and then leaves the pot as steam, taking the heat with it.

Evaporative Cooling Importance

Evaporative cooling is used in both biological and mechanical processes. Our bodies are designed to sweat to release heat and keep our body at its natural temperature when it gets too hot. Our skin releases sweat, which contains water. The water absorbs the heat from our skin and it eventually evaporates, taking the extra heat in our skin with it. This decreases our body temperature and keeps us from overheating in the summer.

Air conditioners use evaporative cooling to decrease the temperature inside a building. Evaporative coolers work by pumping warm air into the air conditioner and filtering it through a pad soaked with water, which can absorb heat from the air and evaporate. As the water absorbs heat from the air, the air temperature decreases and is returned to the room.

Evaporative cooling is also used to cool nuclear power plants. The heat from the nuclear core flows into water cooling systems. The water absorbs the heat and is released as steam from the power plant. Without proper cooling systems, nuclear power plants overheat and a nuclear meltdown occurs; radioactive material can escape into the environment.

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