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Describe qualitatively the thermal expansion of solids, liquids and

When matter is heated, its particles gain energy, which is exerted as kinetic

In solids, the particles vibrate harder and faster, creating more space
between the particles, causing them to expand. This is most visible in
metals. This process is thermal expansion.

In liquids, the particles move around faster, weakening the intermolecular

forces of attractions, and are thus held less closely together. The liquid
expands. If you want, you can test this out yourself, by measuring and
comparing the volume of the same mass of water, before and after heating.
A common example is the traditional thermometer – as the bulb of the
thermometer heats up, the heat is conducted to the liquid. This causes the
liquid to expand, forcing it to rise up the thermometer.

In gases, particles move faster as they are heated. If they are heated under
constant pressure, the gas particles collide harder with the container
surfaces, forcing them out, and allowing the gas to expand. This can be
seen when warming the gas in a gas syringe.

If gases are heated at a constant volume, however, they do not expand –

the gas pressure simply increases.

Note that the cooling down of substances tends to have the opposite effect
– the particles lose kinetic energy, come closer together, and thus contract.

2. Explain in terms of motion and arrangement of molecules the relative

order of magnitude of the expansion of solids, liquids and gases.
When considering thermal expansion, gases expand the most, followed by
liquids, and solids expand the least. This is because gases have the
weakest intermolecular forces of attraction, allowing their molecules to
move the furthest apart, and solids have the strongest intermolecular
forces, limiting the range of motion of the particles.
3. Identify and explain some of the everyday applications and
consequences of thermal expansion.
 We often use hot water to warm up the lid of a jar. This expands the lid
(metals expand more than glass), making it easier to remove.
 Liquid in thermometers expand and contract as the temperature changes.
The volume of the liquid at a given temperature is how we read the
temperature off of a thermometer.
 Overhead cables have to be slack so that on cold days when they contract,
they won’t snap or detach.

 Expansion joints – these are found on most large bridges. They look like two
metal combs, their teeth interlocking, and have small gaps between each
other. When heat causes the bridge to expand, the two sides of the
expansion joint move towards each other. As the temperature cools, they
gradually retract. This gives the bridge room for expansion and contraction,
preventing the cracking/ deformation of the bridge. The expansion joints
have interlocking ‘teeth’ because this minimizes the bump that
motorcyclists feel as they ride over it.
 Bimetallic strips in thermostats. This requires a little more explanation, so
I’ve written a paragraph about it below.
Thermostats are devices used to adjust the temperature of a heating or
cooling system.

In order to understand how they work, you’ll need to know a little about
expansion coefficients.

Thermal expansion is expressed, in numbers, as the change in length,

area, or volume per unit temperature change.

For wires, as the cross-sectional area is often tiny and thus negligible, we
don’t have to concern ourselves with calculating the area or volume change
– we can just measure the change in length of the wire per unit
temperature change. This value would be the coefficient of linear

For sheets, such as metal sheets, its thickness is negligible when

compared to its area, so we don’t have to calculate its volume change. We
normally use the change in area per unit temperature. This is the coefficient
of superficial expansion.

For other substances, like materials in 3D shapes, or liquids or gases, we

use the coefficient of cubical expansion. This is the change in area per unit
temperature change.

Bimetal thermostats have a

bimetallic strip. This is a strip in which there are two metals, with different
coefficients of linear expansion, placed side by side. Therefore, when the
strips warm up, one of the metals linearly expand more than the other,
causing the bimetallic strip to bend. When it becomes hot enough, the strip
bends enough to close the circuit, and the air conditioner turns on, cooling
down the room. Once the room has reached the desired temperature, the
strip slowly unbends, opening the circuit and turning off the air conditioner.
The same mechanism can be used for heaters – when it is warm, the strip
bends away from the circuit, and is it grows colder, the strip straightens out
until it closes the circuit and the heater can turn on again.

When you adjust the temperature on a thermostat, you’re adjusting how far
the bimetal strip has to bend/ straighten out to close the gap.
In building construction, an
expansion joint is a mid-structure
separation designed to relieve
stress on building materials caused
by building movement induced by
thermal expansion
Another example of thermal expansion
on the part of a liquid can be found inside
the car's radiator. If the radiator is
"topped off" with coolant on a cold day,
an increase in temperature could very
well cause the coolant to expand until it
overflows. In the past, this produced a
problem for car owners, because car
engines released the excess volume of
coolant onto the ground, requiring
periodic replacement of the fluid.

everyday example of thermal
expansion can be seen in the kitchen.
Almost everyone has had the experience
of trying unsuccessfully to budge a tight
metal lid on a glass container, and after
running hot water over the lid, finding that
it gives way and opens at last. The
reason for this is that the high-
temperature water causes the metal lid to
expand. On the other hand, glass—as
noted earlier—has a low coefficient of
Another example of thermal expansion in expansion. Otherwise, it would expand
a solid is the sagging of electrical power with the lid, which would defeat the
lines on a hot day. This happens purpose of running hot water over it.
because heat causes them to expand,
and, thus, there is a greater length of Read
power line extending from pole to pole more:
than under lower temperature conditions. eryday/Real-Life-Physics-Vol-2/Thermal-
It is highly unlikely, of course, that the Expansion-Real-life-
heat of summer could be so great as to applications.html#ixzz5nDTC3vEN
pose a danger of power lines breaking;
on the other hand, heat can create a Read
serious threat with regard to larger more:
structures. eryday/Real-Life-Physics-Vol-2/Thermal-
Read applications.html#ixzz5nDSrIiby


Bimetallic Strip

A bimetallic strip consists of two different materials with different

expansion coefficients that are bonded together. For example, for
brass and steel, the coefficients of linear expansion are:

Brass: 19 x 10-6 /°C Steel: 11 x 10-6 /°C

When this bimetallic strip is heated, the brass expands more than
the steel and the strip curves with the brass on the outside. If the
strip is cooled, it curves with the steel on the outside.

Bimetallic strips are used as switches in thermostats.

4. Describe qualitatively the effect of a change of temperature on the
volume of a gas at constant pressure.
This has already been explained in point 1.

As the temperature increases, the gas molecules gain kinetic energy and
move faster. This causes them to collide with the container surfaces
harder, forcing the surfaces outwards and allowing the gas to expand.

In other words, at constant pressure, the volume is directly proportional to

the temperature in Kelvin (K).

In formula form,

PV/T = k;

Where P is the pressure in Pascals (Pa),

V is the volume in m3,

T is the temperature in Kelvin (K)

And k is a constant.

If we rearrange the formula to PV = kT, it becomes apparent that as T

increases so does V.
Bi-metallic strips
The principle behind a bimetallic strip is that different metals expand to different extents with temperature
changes. By combining two different metals one on top of another into a strip, a bimetallic strip is formed. As the
two metals expand or contract differently under the same temperature change, the strip bends. It can then be
used to switch on or off a circuit at certain temperatures. Bimetallic strips are often found in ovens. The typical
structure of this type of control is shown in Fig. 5.

Fig. 4 A typical bimetallic strip Fig. 5 The structure of a bimetallic strip

The device shown in Fig. 5 is typical of those used in ovens. The upper metal (blue) expands more when heated
and contracts more when cooled than the lower metal. Thus, when the temperature inside the oven drops below
a certain point, the bimetallic strip bends upwards enough to complete the circuit, switching on the heating
element. In a refrigerator, the reverse set-up is used. When the temperature inside the refrigerator rises, the
bimetallic strip bends to switch on the compressor which starts the cooling cycle.

Matter in general expands when heated. This can be explained using the molecular model of matter.
When a solid is heated, its molecules vibrate faster about their fixed positions. As a result of this, the molecules
move slightly further apart than when they are cold. The cumulative effect of all the molecules result in the
volume expansion of the solid.

The expansion of a solid when heated is small. A metre rule may expands by 1 – 2 mm when heated. Through
small, this expansion can create a very large force if it is restrained. Railway tracks expand during a hot day. If
the tracks are not designed for the expansion, the entire track may bend out of shape during expansion.
However, the expansion of solid may also be put into good use. Two pieces of different metals with different
expansion coefficients may be bound together. When temperature changes, the two metals expands differently.
This causes the strip to bend according to the temperature. This bimetallic strip may be used to open and close
an electric circuit to control temperature.

Liquid also expands for the same reason. However, since liquid particles are usually less tightly bound to each
other molecules, they generally move further than solid particles when heated. Hence, liquid expands more than
solid if the temperature rise is the same. This expansion of liquid may be used in a liquid-in-glass thermometer.
The volume increase of alcohol or mercury may be calibrated to provide a temperature reading since the
expansion is almost directly proportional to the temperature rise.
Gases behave differently from solids and liquids. Gas molecules are far apart and weakly attracted to each other.
Heat causes the molecules to move faster and the volume increases much more than solids and liquids.
However, gas do not have to expands when heated. If the gas is confined to a fixed volume, the increase
in temperature may cause the pressure to increase if the volume of kept constant. If the gas is allowed to
expand, the pressure may be kept constant. We may use the kinetic model to explain this. When a gas is heated,
the molecules move faster. The higher speed

of molecules result in a higher frequency of collision with the container walls. These collisions are also harder as
the molecules are faster. Together, these cause the pressure to increase. As the pressure is higher than original
value, the gas will push the piston out. This result in a volume increase. As the volume is now larger, the
frequency of collisions with the container walls is less and the pressure decrease. The volume stops expanding
when the internal pressure equals to the original external pressure. This is expansion of gas under constant