Thermal conduction in solids

Also found in: Dictionary.

Thermal conduction in solids

Thermal conduction in a solid is generally measured by stating the thermal conductivity K, which is the ratio of the steady-state heat flow (heat transfer per unit area per unit time) along a long rod to the temperature gradient along the rod. Thermal conductivity varies widely among different types of solids, and depends markedly on temperature and on the purity and physical state of the solids, particularly at low temperatures.

From the kinetic theory of gases the thermal conductivity can be written as K = (constant) Svl, where S is the specific heat per unit volume, v is the average particle velocity, and l is the mean free path. In solids, thermal conduction results from conduction by lattice vibrations and from conduction by electrons. In insulating materials, the conduction is by lattice waves; in pure metals, the lattice contribution is negligible and the heat conduction is primarily due to electrons. In many alloys, impure metals, and semiconductors, both conduction mechanisms contribute. See Conduction (heat), Kinetic theory of matter, Lattice vibrations, Specific heat

In superconductors at temperatures below the critical temperature, the electronic conduction is reduced; at sufficiently low temperatures, the thermal conductivity becomes entirely due to lattice waves and is similar to the form of the thermal conductivity of an insulating material. See Superconductivity

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Physics. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.