Both conduction and convection are methods of energy transfer that require particles. However, in solids, energy is transferred by conduction.

When a substance is heated, its particles vibrate more vigorously and bump into each other. When this happens, energy transfers along the substance via conduction.

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The diagram below illustrates the arrangement of atoms in a solid, with the colour indicating the temperature of each atom

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  • The more red the atom is, the more heat energy the atom has
  • The more blue the atom is, the less heat energy the atom has

As the atoms start to vibrate more, they collide with neighbouring atoms, transferring heat energy. For example, when a metal spoon is placed into a hot drink, the whole of the spoon ends up becoming hot.

Conductors and insulators

Good conductors are inherently poor insulators, and vice versa. This is because conductors transfer heat easily and insulators do not transfer heat easily.

Good conductors/poor insulators

Metals are examples of good conductors.

When heat moves through a substance, it transfers from one particle to another. Solids are usually the best conductors because their atoms are very close together. This means that when the atoms vibrate, they instantly collide with neighbouring particles.

Good insulators/bad conductors

Some examples of good insulators are:

  • Plastic
  • Air
  • Wood
  • Rubber

Good insulators often act as poor conductors because their particles are spaced further apart. As a result, transferring energy to neighbouring particles is more difficult due to the increased distance between them.