Also found in: Acronyms, Wikipedia.
The study of the propagation of energy by radiative processes; it is also called radiation transport. Radiation is one of the three mechanisms by which energy moves from one place to another, the other two being conduction and convection. See Electromagnetic radiation, Heat transfer
The kinds of problems requiring an understanding of radiative transfer can be characterized by looking at meteorology, astronomy, and nuclear reactor design. In meteorology, the energy budget of the atmosphere is determined in large part by energy gained and lost by radiation. In astronomy, almost all that is known about the abundance of elements in space and the structure of stars comes from modeling radiative transfer processes. Since neutrons moving in a reactor obey the same laws as radiation being scattered by atmospheric particles, radiative transfer plays an important part in nuclear reactor design.
Each of these three fields—meteorology, astronomy, and nuclear engineering—concentrates on a different aspect of radiative transfer. In meteorology, situations are studied in which scattering dominates the interaction between radiation and matter; in astronomy, there is more interest in the ways in which radiation and the distribution of electrons in atoms affect each other; and in nuclear engineering, problems relate to complicated, three-dimensional geometry.
Radiative transfer is a complicated process because matter interacts with the radiation. This interaction occurs when the photons that make up radiation exchange energy with matter. These processes can be understood by considering the transfer of visible light through a gas made up of atoms. Similar processes occur when radiation interacts with solid dust particles or when it is transmitted through solids or liquids. See Photon
If a gas is hot, collisions between atoms can convert the kinetic energy of motion to potential energy by raising atoms to an excited state. Emission is the process which releases this energy in the form of photons and cools the gas by converting the kinetic energy of atoms to energy in the form of radiation. The reverse process, absorption, occurs when a photon raises an atom to an excited state, and the energy is converted to kinetic energy in a collision with another atom. Absorption heats the gas by converting energy from radiation to kinetic energy. Occasionally an atom will absorb a photon and reemit another photon of the same energy in a random direction. If the photon is reradiated before the atom undergoes a collision, the photon is said to be scattered. Scattering has no net effect on the temperature of the gas. See Atomic structure and spectra, Scattering of electromagnetic radiation