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Temperature is not just hot and cold

Temperature is indeed what a thermometer measures but its physical meaning is far more subtle. Temperature is not a measure of heat nor energy but requires a more detailed description including entropy.
by Robert Hayes Modified: July 25, 2014 at 4:28 pm •  Published: July 25, 2014

Most people think they know what temperature is, it is used commonly in day to day talk and displayed in many ways and places. Weather services provide current measurements and future estimates, your oven will give values as do a whole host of other systems in industry and commerce. How difficult could such a simple concept really be?

Temperature is actually a function of a materials internal energy and entropy. A thorough understanding of entropy requires a rather deep understanding of chaos and disorder. Truth be told, temperature can be a very difficult topic that is really not obvious.

You may already be aware that zero degrees Celsius is the temperature at which water freezes and possibly that this is equivalent to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. What is less known about temperature is that it does not measure energy, neither heat energy nor internal energy of any kind. To make things worse, heat energy is a special kind of product of the entropy of a system and its temperature. This sounds all the more strange when you find out that entropy is basically a lack of order and knowledge.

The common notion of temperature is simply what is read by a thermometer. Most thermometers only measure a materials expansion (such as Mercury) with increasing temperature and then calibrate this by various scaling points such as the boiling and freezing point of water. Much more fundamental than this is a defining truth that two objects in contact will have heat travel from the material with the higher temperature into the adjoining material with the lower temperature.

To simplify things, you have to recognize that every substance is made of atoms. The atoms can combine to make molecules, salts, metals, liquids, gas and pretty much everything else on earth. The molecules in a gas are all zipping around very fast, bouncing into and off of each other along with any surfaces which touch the gas. It is this action of these molecules (bouncing off of surfaces) that we realize as pressure. In the same way that a barrage of machine gun fire onto a metal plate would push that plate, the air molecules bouncing off the ground and walls is what we measure as pressure.

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by Robert Hayes
NewsOK Contributor
I am a licensed professional engineer in both Nevada and New Mexico for Nuclear Engineering. I am board certified by the American Board of Health Physics and have PhD in Nuclear Engineering and a masters degree in Physics. I am also a fellow of...
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