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Steady state heat conduction into a very large solid

  1. Dec 17, 2014 #1
    Say you have a flat resistor that is producing heat. You place the resistor against a sheet of steel and wait for equilibrium. One side of the steel is now at the same temperature as the resistor (assuming negligible contact resistance), the other free-air side of the steel is at a lower temperature than the resistor surface but not as low as ambient. So on this side convective cooling will bring the temperature gradient down to ambient.

    You repeat the experiment but this time the free-air side of the steel is put up against a very very large solid object and again you wait for equilibrium, what will the temperature gradients look like now?

    Because the solid object is so massive then I imagined the heat flow will cause it's temperature to rise by a negligible amount. Perhaps a small thickness of the solid that's against the steel will have an increased temperature but further into the object this will quickly be brought down to ambient. This feels intuitively right at least.

    However, if you really wait for equilibrium (which may be a very long time) then the temperature profile across the large solid must be a straight line, from the temperature of the steel on one side to ambient on the other surely? So say half way through the solid, the temperature rise must be significant, is this correct?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 17, 2014 #2
    The resistor has the same area as the steel sheet and the object, so that the heat conduction is one dimensional, correct? If this is correct, then you are talking about a transient 1D heat conduction problem with convection at the far boundary. If this is correct, then your qualitative analysis of what is happening is correct. Basically, the region of the large body where the temperature is significantly affected grows with time. Eventually the temperature profile in the large body will transcend the entire body and be linear. You can find solutions to this problem (and ones like it) in Carslaw and Jaeger. You can also find transient heat conduction solutions in Heat Transmission by McAdams and Transport Phenomena by Bird, Stewart, and Lightfoot.

  4. Dec 17, 2014 #3
    Hi Chet, those assumptions are correct, I was imagining 1D conduction. Although surely once the temperature gradient through the large object is a straight line then it's steady state not transient because the temperatures are not changing with time from then on.

    I think I over complicated the problem in my own mind initially because the answer didn't 'feel' right. I suppose that's because in this case it's hard to appreciate what equilibrium (several hours or days later) will look like, plus convective losses out of the sides of the large object will stop the temperature rise from propagating too far into the object.
  5. Dec 17, 2014 #4
    I think you have a good feel for what is happening.

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