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Specific Heat

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Lesson Focus

Specific Heat


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You will learn how the application of heat to an object raises its temperature and overall energy. The activity will summarize the concept of specific heat and demonstrate how this value is applied to calculate the energy absorbed or released by an object.

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Now You Know

After completing this tutorial, you will be able to complete the following:

  • Define specific heat as the amount of energy required to raise 1 gram of a substance 1 °C.
  • Explain the relationship between the amount of energy absorbed or released and the mass of the object.
  • Explain the relationship between the amount of energy absorbed or released and the temperature change an object goes through.
  • Explain that different states of matter have different specific heats.
  • Explain the equation that relates the specific heat of a substance, the amount of energy the substance gains or loses, its mass, and the change in the substance’s temperature.

Everything You'll Have Covered

Heat is a form of energy (thermal energy) and its gain or loss results in a temperature change. More heat is required to raise the temperature of a substance with a larger mass, and the more heat that is added to a given mass the greater its change in temperature will be. However, these are not the only variables affecting the temperature change. A characteristic amount of heat energy is required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of a substance by 1 degree Celsius. This characteristic amount of heat differs for different substances; it is the intrinsic property called specific heat or specific heat capacity, and is measured in joules per grams-degrees Celsius.

The relationship between heat energy (Q), temperature change (?T), mass (m), and specific heat capacity (c) is stated as Q = m x c x ?T. To simplify matters, most examples consider Q as the heat energy input to an isolated (closed) system (i.e., no heat is lost to surroundings).

The greater the specific heat of a substance, the more heat energy is required to raise its temperature. Some of the input heat energy does not increase the molecular kinetic energy of a substance (reflected in a temperature increase), but is stored as potential energy. Specific heat is also reflected in the cooling of a substance. A substance with a lower specific heat will cool down more quickly; less energy needs to move out of the substance and into its surroundings for its temperature to drop. When comparing heat capacities of substances, note that there are several different definitions used. The one used here is common in secondary science education; others include molar heat capacity (J/molK) and volumetric heat capacity (J/cm^3K).

Tutorial Details

Approximate Time 35 Minutes
Pre-requisite Concepts Learners should be familiar with the vaporization, boiling, and condensation processes, the melting and freezing processes, heat transfer relations between different states, stoichiometric calculations and the concepts of molar mass.
Course Chemistry
Type of Tutorial Concept Development
Key Vocabulary chemistry, energy, endothermic