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Overview         (For age - group : Below 16 )

This animated school science about thermal expansion explains how metals undergo thermal expansion when heated, this has found application in planning for bridges, overhead wire, railway tracks and home applications. The animation contains linear, superficial and volumetric expansion.

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Effects of thermal expansion - animation contains the following :

Why space is provided between rails and bridges ?
Why telegraph & electrical lines are never hung tautly between poles ?
Why a tight glass stopper or a metal screw cap can be opened by heating them ?
Why one end of a steel bridge is not fixed in concrete ?
Why glassware used in kitchen are not made up of thin glasses ?

Explanatory Notes section elaborates on the following :

  • What is thermal expansion ?
  • Why heating leads to thermal expansion ?
  • Does thermal expansion occurs in liquid also ?Does the thermal takes place in gases also ?

thermal expansion - electrical wires are not hung tautly
thermal expansion - gaps are provided between rails
Thermal expansion example 1 - electrical wires are not hung tautly
Thermal expansion example 2 - gaps are provided between rails for expansion
thermal expansion - why one end of a steel bridge is not fixed
Thermal expansion example 4 - glassware are made up of thin glasses
Thermal expansion example 3 - one end of a steel bridge is not fixed to provide for expansion
Thermal expansion example 4 - glassware are made up of thin glasses
Details of the animation/ movie /software

Most substances expand when heated and contract when cooled.
The change in length / area or volume (due to contracting/expanding) is directly related to temperature change. Every linear dimension increases by the same percentage with a change in temperature

Not all materials contract/expand at the same rate; the amount of contraction/expansion varies depending on the material. The coefficient of linear expansion, is a proportionality constant that determines the rate of change in length in different materials when they are heated and cooled.

Applications :
In thermometers, thermal expansion is used for measurement. Liquid expand more than solids. Stained red ethanol has a relatively large coefficient of cubic expansion than glass . Temperature can be measured as it rises through the capillary faster.

-If a lid of a glass jar is tight, holding it under hot water for a short time will make it easier to open. This is because the lid will be struck by the hot water more directly than the glass, and so it will expand sooner. Furthermore, metals generally expand more than glass for the same temperature change.


- If steel bridge expand or contract, it can cause structural damage.
However, steel bridges are often mounted on rollers to prevent this problem.

-Expansion gaps also exist in train tracks.

-Water and steam pipes often have a U-bend in them to allow for thermal expansion.

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Q & A
Q1: out of mass radius surface area and volume which increases the most when the metal ball is heated and why? neelam 16/9/2015
Q2: what happens during night and day when thermal expansion acts up on a light wire does it shrink in length or does it expands sanjay 12/9/2015
Q4: Write down three effects of heat on thermal properties and thermostat? Nadirah 1/7/2013
Q5: Could you please give me some different examples of thermal expansion and contraction? shah rukh khan 5/10/2012
Q6: An unique advantage of expansion.......... Urvija 1/9/2012
Q7: what are the differences between boiling and evaporation? afolabi timothy 24/2/2012
Q8: What are the uses of expansion of liquids?(please provide details) subham.roni 15/12/2011
Q9: what is expansion? sana 1/8/2011
Q10: What are the effect of expansion? Lil swags 26/3/2011
Q11: advantages and disadvantages of thermal expansion on solids? fawale solomon 17/3/2011
Q12: why do some substances expand on heating? anu 15/2/2011
Q13: what are the effects of expansion john 9/1/2011
Q14: Hot chimney glass will be broken when cool water drops sprinkled over it mani 23/12/2010
Q15: What is the pattern of cracks developed in piping if proper thermal expansion is not allowed asif baig 21/12/2010
Q16: does the steel bridge in portland have one end free for thermal expansion? if not with what material it is built with as steel will expand. mahendra 14/12/2010
Q17: How are bridges built to prevent problems with expansion and contraction? swq 26/9/2010
Q18: what is the thermometers faisal 11/9/2010
Q19: how does a bimetallic thermometer works? hajidahk 1/4/2010
Q20: why are electrical lines not hung tautly? Nadine diaz 15/3/2010
Q21: effects of linear expansivity on solids xavi 10/11/2009
Q22: what are the effects and applications of solid expansion? christian 6/11/2009
Q23: why are u not giving more example? Aakash 1/10/2009
Ans: Well Akash we have to leave something for the animation also
Q24: Can u give me criteria and data of gas expansion turbines? surya 29/4/2009
Q25: disadvantages of expansion humphrey 21/3/2009
Q26: what is the effect of thermal expansion in our daily in lives gaurav 18/3/2009
Q27: what are the advantage and disadvantage of thermal expansion unknown 10/3/2009
Q28: what is expansion ? princess 27/11/2008
Q29: how dose thermal expansion effect solid,liquids,and gases ?? Qatari girl 26/11/2008
Q30: what are the effects of thermal expasion and contraction in our datheily life and how are they overcome ? J 26/11/2008
Q31: what are the effects of thermal expasion and contraction in our datheily life and how are they overcome ? rayyania 24/11/2008
Q32: how dose thermal expansion effect solid,liquids,and gases ?? princess 22/11/2008
Q33: why does heat expand derdri 18/11/2008
Q34: Why are bridges built with gaps in them? gene 2/11/2008
Q35: what is your favorite book eyaya 18/10/2008
Q36: Where do you use expansion of gases? Madhini 1/9/2008
Q37: To what extent will gas/jet fuel expand in a fuel bladder on a 90F day? John 7/6/2008
Q38: what are gases better insulators than liquids? tiffany 28/4/2008
Q39: Which wood would show the most expansion from 0-200 degrees C, also does density effect expansion. Nrua 28/4/2008
Q40: how are bridges built to with stand expansion and contraction joe 18/3/2008
Ans: Space is provided for their expansion at the ends and between concrete slabs and iron girders. If the space was not provided bending of girders or formation of fissures and cracks will occurr in the bridge, leading to a collapse of the structure.
Q41: why do pavements have gaps between them? Anoynymous 15/3/2008
Ans: Pavements are made of concrete and concrete expands by 0.6 to 1.3 x 10^-5 per degree centigrade, this expansion can be provided for by gaps between blocks of concrete
Q42: how does a thermostat in a fridge work? Anoynymous 15/3/2008
Ans: A thermostat is a device used for maintaining a steady temperature. It's basically a thermometer attached to a switch, and it's job is to turn something on or off when the thermometer reaches a certain temperature. Its working is based on the behavior of a BI-metallic strip with the change in temperature. Often long BI-metallic strips are coiled into spirals. By coiling a very long strip it becomes much more sensitive to small temperature changes. The bimetallic expand sensing the temperature and turn the circuit off. When the temperature they contract to put the circuit on. Refer our animation or webpage on bimetallic strip to know more.
Q43: Why the sky is red at dusk and down Pogolla 11/2/2008
Ans: The light you see when you look at the sky is sunlight that is scattered by particles of dust in the atmosphere. If there were no scattering, and all of the light travelled straight from the sun to the earth, the sky would look dark as it does at night. The shorter the wavelength of light, the more it is scattered by particle of the atmosphere. Because it has a shorter wavelength, blue light is scattered ten times more than red light. So during daytime, when you look up in the sky, the scattered blue light is the light that you see. When the sun is on the horizon, its light takes a longer path through the atmosphere to your eyes than when the sun is directly overhead. Most of the blue light has been scattered out. The light is reddish orange, the color of white light minus blue.
Q44: how may linear expansivity cause hazards? fatima 6/2/2008
Ans: Concrete contains steel rods if the expansion is not matched then expansion of steel rods can crack the concrete. If hot liquid is poured in a ordinary glass it may crack due to unmatched expansion. Not providing sufficient gaps for expansion of bridges or railroad can cause stresses and bending. Not leaving some space for engine coolant – filling it to brim- can cause it to overflow.
Q45: are there concetual problems on this site(thermal expansion) Pradyota 29/12/2007
Ans: On this site all of the animation deal with concepts and solutions, numerical problems are addressed wherever necessary. Concepts pertaining to topics like thermal expansion, light, heat, atomic theory etc are dealt through different animations.
Q46: how does thermal expansion effects solid, liquids, and gases? sasa 18/12/2007
Ans: Each expands to a different degree, in solids the expansion is much lesser than in gas or liquid. A liquid or a gas will undergo higher degree of expansion as compared to a solid. This can be observed in thermometers where mercury or alcohol expand much more than glass to rise up in the capillary. Steam in a pressure cooker expands much more than the solid metal of the cooker and produces a high pressure inside the enclosed space.
Q47: what is expansion, contraction and diffusion in mor fuller information? Michael Hurcomb 28/11/2007
Ans: Substances expand on heating, When a substance is heated, its constituent particles move around more vigorously and by doing so generally maintain a greater average separation.. This expansion is either linear, surface or volume based, for example a wire will expand linearly while a metal ball will expand volumetrically. This expansion is governed by the temperature difference to which the metal is subjected. Same holds for contraction. Diffusion is observed more in gases though in solids, solid-state-diffusion does take place. In diffusion the molecules of a gas moves in a random manner and collides with other molecules to spread from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration (at times through a semi-permeable membrane). This phenomenon takes place in liquids also.
Q48: what is application thermal expansion and contraction in gases Anwar 22/10/2007
Ans: Compression of a gas increases its temperature (as per Charles’s law) while expansion produces cooling, heat is exchanged with the surroundings during the process. Heat is released when expansion occurs and vice versa. Major applications are: 1) Gas expansion turbines or turbo-expander, a centrifugal or axial flow turbine through which a high pressure gas is expanded to produce work and in steam turbines 2) Compressors use gas expansion and compression for refrigeration and air-conditioning, one of the application is in pneumatic equipment example pneumatic drill for doing work using compressed gases, also for feeding fuel at high pressure by turbopumps used in space shuttle and rockets 3) Two and four stroke engines used in automobiles use thermal expansion of gases for moving a piston.
Q49: what are the effects of thermal expansion and contraction in our daily life and how are they overcome? rafay 4/10/2007
Ans: Expansion and contraction are overcome by providing margin specially for expansion - Bridges and railway tracks have spaces provided for expansion in the joints, electric wires are not strung tight for braking due contraction in icy winters, glassware are made thin to prevent cracking during heating
Q50: what are the effects of thermal expansion and contraction in our daily life? rafay 2/10/2007
Ans: Thermal expansion and contraction produce stress in virtually every object, rocks break apart due to irregular expansion and contraction, buildings and bridges develop cracks and fractures, cantilevers, beams, wires, cables all made of metal undergo expansion in summer and contraction in winter resulting at times in failure of a structure.
Q51: Why ice expands when cooled/freezed? Whereas matter expands when heated? How am I going to explain to my kids? Roland 11/5/2007
Ans: In ice, two H-atoms are linked with O-atom by covalent bonds and the remaining two H-atoms are linked to O-atom by two H-bonds. Thus in ice every H2O molecule is associated with 4 other water molecules by H-bonding in a less dense tetrahedral fashion. This produces an open cage-like tetrahedral structure of ice with a large empty space. We have answered it in detail in an article, go to We will include a children one too later with more pictures.
Q52: What happens to bridges when they expand due to heat? Stephen Day 18/4/2007
Ans: To the modern bridges – Nothing, as space is provided for their expansion but continuous expansion and contraction cycle, stresses the material and over a long term weakens the bridge, so its continuous maintenance is necessary. If the space was not provided bending of girders or formation of fissures and cracks would have occurred in the bridge, leading to a collapse of the structure.
Q53: what is heat expansion antoneil 17/3/2007
Ans: Heat expansion is different name for thermal expansion, for solids it occurs due to Expansion occurs in solids due to increased vibration of atoms around their mean position as heat is applied to them
Q54: what are the uses of thermal expansion in train traks bubbly 18/10/2006
Ans: please refer to the answers included in the page
Q55: how does thermal expansion and contraction effects railway tracks, bridges and concrete buildings and pathway? sidra 4/10/2006
Ans: Metals expand on heating and contract on cooling, a railway track is bound to ground at regular intervals, if a long railway line was used in place of spaced sections, the expansion would be cumulative and the line would curve unevenly all across its length. In case of concrete, the components have different coefficients of expansions hence internal stresses are caused and if the margin for cumulative expansion is not provided for then faults will take place.
Q56: detail of the application of thermal expansion(any 3) bubbly 24/9/2006
Ans: Hi, this is not a homework help site; we are giving you hints and suggest that you research them out yourself. Search for bulb or dial thermometer (it uses bimetallic strips), thermostats, or a train track.
Q57: Does changing the intensity of the wave change the speed of the wave? Why sadaf 27/3/2006
Ans: The answer is no – wave speed is dependent upon medium properties and independent of wave properties. So changing amplitude, frequency or any other wave parameter does not affect speed. However changing the properties of medium (elasticity in case of sound) or the medium itself will affect speed.
Q58: sections of a bridge are closer together in winter or summer? sadaf 21/2/2006
Ans: This is primarily to compensate for linear expansion of steel and concrete in summer and cotraction in winters, refer the animation for detailed answer

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