A particularly important concept is thermodynamic equilibrium. In general, when two objects are brought into thermal contact, heat will flow between them until they come into equilibrium with each other. When a temperature difference does exist heat flows spontaneously from the warmer system to the colder system. Heat transfer occurs by conduction or by thermal radiation. When the flow of heat stops, they are said to be at the same temperature. They are then said to be in thermal equilibrium.
See also: What is Temperature
For example, you leave a thermometer in a cup of coffee. As the two objects interact, the thermometer becomes hotter and the coffee cools off a little until they come into thermal equilibrium. Two objects are defined to be in thermal equilibrium if, when placed in thermal contact, no net energy flows from one to the other, and their temperatures don’t change. We may postulate:
When the two objects are in thermal equilibrium, their temperatures are equal.
This is a subject of a law that is called the “zeroth law of thermodynamics”.
For example, most materials expand when their temperature is increased. This property is very important in all of the science and engineering, even in nuclear engineering. The thermodynamic efficiency of power plants changes with temperature of inlet steam or even with outside temperature. At higher temperatures, solids such as steel glow orange or even white depending on temperature. The white light from an ordinary incandescent lightbulb comes from an extremely hot tungsten wire. It can be seen temperature is one of the fundamental characteristics that describes matter and influences matter behaviour.
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