Science Notes

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Consider a very hot mug of coffee on the countertop of your kitchen. For discussion purposes, we will say that the cup of coffee has a temperature of 80°C and that the surroundings has a temperature of 26°C. What do you suppose will happen in this situation? I suspect that you know that the cup of coffee will gradually cool down over time. At 80°C, you wouldn't dare drink the coffee. Even the coffee mug will likely be too hot to touch. But over time, both the coffee mug and the coffee will cool down. Soon it will be at a drinkable temperature. And if you resist the temptation to drink the coffee, it will eventually reach room temperature. The coffee cools from 80°C to about 26°C. So what is happening over the course of time to cause the coffee to cool down? The answer to this question can be both macroscopic and particulate in nature.On the macroscopic level, we would say that the coffee and the mug are transferring heat to the surroundings. This transfer of heat occurs from the hot coffee and hot mug to the surrounding air. The fact that the coffee lowers its temperature is a sign that the average kinetic energy of its particles is decreasing. The coffee is losing energy. The mug is also lowering its temperature; the average kinetic energy of its particles is also decreasing. The mug is also losing energy. The energy that is lost by the coffee and the mug is being transferred to the colder surroundings. We refer to this transfer of energy from the coffee and the mug to the surrounding air and countertop as heat. In this sense, heat is simply the transfer of energy from a hot object to a colder object. Now let's consider a different scenario - that of a cold can of pop placed on the same kitchen counter. For discussion purposes, we will say that the pop and the can which contains it has a temperature of 5°C and that the has a temperature of 26°C. What will happen to the cold can of pop over the course of time? Once more, I suspect that you know the answer. The...
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