Heat Transfer

Energy transfer, and specifically the transfer of thermal energy , is a fundamental area of study for all engineers. Engineers use their knowledge of heat transfer to design vehicles to help astronauts get to space, improve the energy efficiency of our electronics and much more!

Each of us encounters heat transfer in every aspect of our lives, from how our body regulates its temperature when we get too hot, to the heat we feel from our laptops, to trying to keep our hot chocolate warm.

There are three modes of heat transfer:

  • Conduction - the transfer of heat between objects in direct contact.
  • Convection - when heat is transferred through the movement of molecules in a medium such as liquids or gas.
  • Radiation - the process of heat transfer through rays, waves or particles.

Engineers work with their knowledge of heat transfer to help buildings be more efficient/sustainable and use less resources for heating and cooling. They also optimize the use or dissipation of heat in products like cell phones, heavy machinery, cars and more.

Engineers use their extensive understanding of mechanical, chemical and biological systems when factoring heat transfer into their products. For instance, the design of internal combustion engines, air conditioning and heating systems, chemical and biological reactors and even clothing technology, requires an understanding of heat transfer. Engineers also design and test insulating materials for homes, buildings and even beverage containers, applying their understanding of heat transfer.

Heat Transfer Curricula

Heat up your K-12 students’ interest and sensemaking abilities in the phenomena of heat transfer with the resources featured here by grade band!


Grades K-2

  • Coming Soon!

Grades 3-5

  • Our Sun and Heat Transfer Basics: Heat It Up!
    Our Sun and Heat Transfer Basics: Heat It Up!

    preview of 'Our Sun and Heat Transfer Basics: Heat It Up! ' Activity

    Instructions for a teacher demo using water, heat and food coloring to show students see how convection moves the Sun's energy from its core outwards. Students learn about the three different modes of heat transfer (convection, conduction, radiation) and how they are related to the Sun and life on E...

  • Stop Heat from Escaping: Testing Insulation Materials
    Stop Heat from Escaping: Testing Insulation Materials

    preview of 'Stop Heat from Escaping: Testing Insulation Materials' Activity

    Student groups conduct a scientific experiment to help an engineering team determine which type of insulation conserves the most energy—a comparison of newspaper, wool, aluminum foil and thin plastic. They learn about different kinds of insulation materials and that insulation prevents the transfer ...

  • Biohazard Protection Design Project: Suit Up!
    Biohazard Protection Design Project: Suit Up!

    preview of 'Biohazard Protection Design Project: Suit Up!' Activity

    Students learn about providing healthcare in a global setting and the importance of wearing protective equipment when treating patients with infectious diseases like Ebola. They learn about biohazard suits, heat transfer through conduction and convection and the engineering design cycle. Student tea...

  • Solar Power
    Solar Power

    preview of 'Solar Power' Activity

    Students learn how engineers use solar energy to heat buildings by investigating the thermal storage properties of some common materials: sand, salt, water and shredded paper. Students then evaluate the usefulness of each material as a thermal storage material to be used as the thermal mass in a pas...

  • Let the Sun Shine!
    Let the Sun Shine!

    preview of 'Let the Sun Shine!' Lesson

    Students learn how the sun can be used for energy. They learn about passive solar heating, lighting and cooking, and active solar engineering technologies (such as photovoltaic arrays and concentrating mirrors) that generate electricity.

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Grades 6-8

  • What Is Heat?
    What Is Heat?

    preview of 'What Is Heat?' Lesson

    Students learn about the definition of heat as a form of energy and how it exists in everyday life. They learn about the three types of heat transfer—conduction, convection and radiation—as well as the connection between heat and insulation.

  • Energy Transfer in Musical Instruments
    Energy Transfer in Musical Instruments

    preview of 'Energy Transfer in Musical Instruments' Lesson

    This lesson covers concepts of energy and energy transfer, with a focus on energy transfer in musical instruments. More specifically, students learn the two different ways in which energy can be transferred between a system and its environment.

  • Cool Puppy! A Doghouse Design Project
    Cool Puppy! A Doghouse Design Project

    preview of 'Cool Puppy! A Doghouse Design Project' Maker Challenge

    Students design and build small doghouses to shelter a (toy) puppy from the heat—and create them within constraints. They apply what they know about light energy and how it travels through various materials, as well as how a material’s color affects its light absorption and reflection. They test the...

  • Keep It Hot!
    Keep It Hot!

    preview of 'Keep It Hot!' Activity

    Student teams design insulated beverage bottles with the challenge to test them to determine which materials (and material thicknesses) work best at insulating hot water to keep it warm for as long as possible. Students test and compare their designs in still air and under a stream of moving air fro...

  • Heat Transfer Lab and Weather Model: Let’s Get Breezy!
    Heat Transfer Lab and Weather Model: Let’s Get Breezy!

    preview of 'Heat Transfer Lab and Weather Model: Let’s Get Breezy!' Activity

    With the assistance of a few teacher demonstrations (online animation, using a radiometer and rubbing hands), students review the concept of heat transfer through convection, conduction and radiation. Then they apply an understanding of these ideas as they use wireless temperature probes to investig...

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Grades 9-12

  • Heat Transfer: From Hot to Not
    Heat Transfer: From Hot to Not

    preview of 'Heat Transfer: From Hot to Not' Lesson

    Students learn the fundamental concepts of heat transfer and heat of reaction. This includes concepts such as physical chemistry, an equation for heat transfer, and a basic understanding of energy and heat transfer.

  • Heat Transfer: No Magic About It
    Heat Transfer: No Magic About It

    preview of 'Heat Transfer: No Magic About It' Lesson

    Students learn the scientific concepts of temperature, heat and the transfer of heat through conduction, convection and radiation, which are illustrated by comparison to magical spells found in the Harry Potter books.

  • To Heat or Not to Heat?
    To Heat or Not to Heat?

    preview of 'To Heat or Not to Heat?' Activity

    Students are introduced to various types of energy with a focus on thermal energy and types of heat transfer as they are challenged to design a better travel thermos that is cost efficient, aesthetically pleasing and meets the design objective of keeping liquids hot.

  • Solar Water: Heat it Up!
    Solar Water: Heat it Up!

    preview of 'Solar Water: Heat it Up!' Activity

    Students explore energy efficiency, focusing on renewable energy, by designing and building flat-plate solar water heaters. They calculate the efficiency of the solar water heaters during initial and final tests and compare the efficiencies to those of models currently sold on the market (requiring ...

  • Heat Flow and Diagrams Lab
    Heat Flow and Diagrams Lab

    preview of 'Heat Flow and Diagrams Lab' Activity

    Student pairs design, redesign and perform simple experiments to test the differences in thermal conductivity (heat flow) through different media (foil and thin steel). Then students create visual diagrams of their findings that can be understood by anyone with little background on the subject, appl...

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