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

In solids, energy is transferred by conduction

When a substance gets heated, its particles vibrate much more and begin to bump into each other. This eventually causes all of the particles to vibrate more vigorously. When this happens, energy transfers along the substance via conduction.

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The diagram below represents the arrangement of atoms in a solid and the colour represents how hot each atom is.

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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

If something is a good conductor, then it is a bad insulator and good insulators are bad conductors. As conductors transfer heat easily and insulators do not transfer heat easily.

Good conductors/poor insulators

An example of good conductors is metals.

When heat passes through a substance, it has to pass from particle to particle. 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

Some good insulators are bad conductors because their particles are more spaced out. Therefore, it is more difficult to transfer energy to neighbouring particles because they are further away.