In a heat transfer, conduction (or heat conduction) is the transfer of thermal energy between neighboring molecules in a substance due to a temperature gradient. It always takes place from a region of higher temperature to a region of lower temperature, and acts to equalize temperature differences. Conduction takes place in all forms of matter, viz. solids, liquids, gases and plasmas, but does not require any bulk motion of matter. In solids, it is due to the combination of vibrations of the molecules in a lattice and the energy transport by free electrons. In gases and liquids, conduction is due to the collisions and diffusion of the molecules during their random motion.
An insulator is a material of such low conductivity that the flow of current through it is negligible (Dictionary.com). The term thermal insulation can refer to materials used to reduce the rate of heat transfer, or the methods and processes used to reduce heat transfer. Heat energy can be transferred by conduction, convection, radiation or by actual movement of material from one location to another. For the purposes of this discussion only the first three mechanisms need to be considered. Thermal insulation is the method of preventing heat from escaping a container or from entering the container. In other words, thermal insulation can keep an enclosed area such as a building warm, or it can keep the inside of a container cold. Heat is transferred by from one material to another by conduction, convection and/or radiation. Insulators are used to minimize that transfer of heat energy. In home insulation, the R-value is an indication of how well a material insulates. The flow of heat can be reduced by addressing one or more of these mechanisms and is dependent on the physical properties of the material employed to do this.
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