Heat Capacity

Heat capacity (usually denoted by a capital C, often with subscripts), or thermal capacity, is the measurable physical quantity that characterizes the amount of heat required to change a substance's temperature by a given amount. In the International System of Units (SI), heat capacity is expressed in units of joule(s) (J) per kelvin (K).

Derived quantities that specify heat capacity as an intensive property, i.e., independent of the size of a sample, are the molar heat capacity, which is the heat capacity per mole of a pure substance, and the specific heat capacity, often simply called specific heat, which is the heat capacity per unit mass of a material. Occasionally, in engineering contexts, a volumetric heat capacity is used. Because heat capacities of materials tend to mirror the number of atoms or particles they contain, when intensive heat capacities of various substances are expressed directly or indirectly per particle number, they tend to vary within a much more narrow range.

Temperature reflects the average kinetic energy of particles in matter while heat is the transfer of thermal energy from high to low temperature regions. Thermal energy transmitted by heat is stored as kinetic energy of atoms as they move, and in molecules as they rotate. Additionally, some thermal energy may be stored as the potential energy associated with higher-energy modes of vibration, whenever they occur in interatomic bonds in any substance. Translation, rotation, and a combination of the two types of energy in vibration (kinetic and potential) of atoms represent the degrees of freedom of motion which classically contribute to the heat capacity of atomic matter (loosely bound electrons occasionally also participate). On a microscopic scale, each system particle absorbs thermal energy among the few degrees of freedom available to it, and at high enough temperatures, this process contributes to a specific heat capacity that classically approaches a value per mole of particles that is set by the Dulong-Petit law. This limit, which is about 25 joules per kelvin for each mole of atoms, is achieved by many solid substances at room temperature (see table below).

For quantum mechanical reasons, at any given temperature, some of these degrees of freedom may be unavailable, or only partially available, to store thermal energy. In such cases, the specific heat capacity will be a fraction of the maximum. As the temperature approaches absolute zero, the specific heat capacity of a system also approaches zero, due to loss of available degrees of freedom. Quantum theory can be used to quantitatively predict specific heat capacities in simple systems.

Read more about Heat Capacity:  Background, Older Units and English Units, Extensive and Intensive Quantities, Metrology, The Measurement of Heat Capacity, Table of Specific Heat Capacities, Specific Heat Capacity of Building Materials

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