Heat Capacity

What is Heat Capacity?

The heat capacity of a substance can be defined as the amount of heat required to change its temperature by one degree.

Thermodynamics in its totality is concerned about heat. The meaning of heat today is energy in transit. Before the development of thermodynamic laws, the heat was considered as the measure of an invisible fluid, caloric, present in any matter. The capability of a substance to hold this fluid was then referred to as the heat capacity of that substance. The development in thermodynamics and dependence of heat transfer on temperature changed the definition of heat.

Modern thermodynamics defines heat as the measure of the total internal energy of a system. In order to quantify the heat energy associated with matter and its dependence on temperature, two properties were defined. These properties were named as specific heat capacity and heat capacity of the system.

Table of Contents

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Heat Capacity Formula

  • Heat energy is the measure of the total internal energy of a system. This includes the total kinetic energy of the system and the potential energy of the molecules.
  • It has been seen that the internal energy of a system can be changed by either supplying heat energy to it, or doing work on it.
  • The internal energy of a system is found to increase with the increase in temperature. This increase in internal energy depends on the temperature difference, the amount of matter, etc.
  • Heat capacity is defined as the amount of heat energy required to raise the temperature of a given quantity of matter by one degree Celsius.
  • Heat capacity for a given matter depends on its size or quantity and hence it is an extensive property. The unit of heat capacity is joule per Kelvin or joule per degree Celsius.



Where Q is the heat energy required to bring about a temperature change of ΔT and C is the heat capacity of the system under study.

Specific Heat Capacity

Scientists needed a quantity that has no dependence on the quantity or size of matter under consideration for thermodynamic studies this made them define specific heat capacity. It is an intensive property as it is independent of the quantity or size of the matter. Specific heat capacity for any substance or matter can be defined as the amount of heat energy required to raise the temperature of a unit mass of that substance by one degree Celsius. Mathematically it is given as:

Q= m c ΔT

Here Q is the amount of heat energy required to change the temperature of m (kg) of a substance by ΔT, s is the specific heat capacity of the system.

Thermodynamics continues to play a vital role in our lives directly or indirectly. Scientists and engineers use the laws of thermodynamics to design new processes for reactions that would have high efficiency and product yield. Chemical and mechanical engineers apply the concepts of thermodynamics for designing heat engines with high efficiency and better outputs.

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs


What is specific heat in chemistry?

The amount of energy needed to increase the temperature of 1 gram of a material by 1 °C is known as its specific heat.


Why is specific heat important?

Water’s high specific heat capacity makes it suitable for central heating systems because it can transfer a lot of energy by heating while its temperature changes just slightly.


Which metal conducts heat the fastest?

Copper and aluminium have the highest thermal conductivity of the common metals, while steel and bronze have the lowest. When determining which metal to use for a particular application, heat conductivity is a crucial factor to consider.


What materials heat up the fastest?

The aluminium conducted heat the longest, taking 14 seconds on average. At 16 seconds, the bronze medallist was the second fastest. The silver nickel took 19 seconds on average to conduct heat and proved to be the most resilient metal in the experiment, as it did not melt or bend.


How is heat capacity used?

Heat capacity, also known as thermal capacity, is a physical property of matter defined as the amount of heat needed to cause a unit change in temperature in a given mass of material. The molar heat capacity is determined by dividing the heat capacity by the sum of substances in moles.

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