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Convection is the transfer of heat by the actual movement of the warmed matter. Heat leaves the coffee cup as the currents of steam and air rise. Convection is the transfer of heat energy in a gas or liquid by movement of currents. (It can also happen is some solids, like sand.) The heat moves with the fluid.

Consider this: convection is responsible for making macaroni rise and fall in a pot of heated water. The warmer portions of the water are less dense and therefore, they rise. Meanwhile, the cooler portions of the water fall because they are denser. Convection is the flow of heat through a bulk, macroscopic movement of matter from a hot region to a cool region, as opposed to the microscopic transfer of heat between atoms involved with conduction. Suppose we consider heating up a local region of air. As this air heats, the molecules spread out, causing this region to become less dense than the surrounding, unheated air. Being less dense than the surrounding cooler air, the hot air will subsequently rise due to buoyant forces - this movement of hot air into a cooler region is then said to transfer heat by convection.

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In this Investigation,

students will discover that the motion of molecules causes molecules to come closer to each other and at other times to be further away from each other.
     As molecules gain energy, they move around more. The molecules begin to move away from each other. This will cause less molecules to be in a given space as molecules gain energy. Air that is heated will have fewer molecules in a given, finite volume that cool air molecules with less energy in the same defined area.
     This heated air will have less mass than cooler air will. Mass  and volume are related to each other . This is called density and is a comparison of the mass and volume of an object to that of water (water has a density of 1).
     Warm air is less dense than cool air and will therefore float on top of the cool air. Warm air rising with cool air sinking is called Convection. This is how air in the atmosphere and water in our seas moves from one place to another.

Investigation Worksheets (PDF's)

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