6. Measurement of Heat and Thermal Expansion

Expansion, Not Contraction

Why does matter usually expand when heated? The answer can be found in the shape of the typical particle-particle potential in matter. Particles in solids and liquids constantly feel the presence of other neighboring particles. This interaction can be represented mathematically as a potential curve. Fig 2 illustrates how this inter-particle potential usually takes an asymmetric form rather than a symmetric form, as a function of particle-particle distance. Note that the potential curve is steeper for shorter distance. In the diagram, (b) shows that as the substance is heated, the equilibrium (or average) particle-particle distance increases. Materials which contract or maintain their shape with increasing temperature are rare. This effect is limited in size, and only occurs within limited temperature ranges.

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