How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 684

How does heat conduct through different materials? - B
In electric insulators, heat is carried by motions of the atoms themselves. You can think of this heat transfer as a bucket-brigade process—one atom jiggles its neighbor, which in turn jiggles its neighbor, and so on. If one end of an insulator is hotter than the other, this jiggling effect will gradually transfer thermal energy from the hotter end (more vigorous jiggling) to the colder end (less vigorous jiggling). Imperfections and weaknesses in most electric insulators make them relatively poor conductors of heat, although there are a few exceptional materials such as diamond that use the bucket-brigade mechanism very effectively and are excellent thermal conductors. In electric conductors, mobile electrons help out by carrying thermal energy from one atom to another over long distances. Even in a material that doesn't make good use of the bucket-brigade mechanism, the mobile electrons provide substantial thermal conductivity. Thus good electric conductors, such as copper, silver, and aluminum, are also good thermal conductors.

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