Understanding Specific Heat Capacity: Calculation, Formulas, and Common Values

February 13, 2024

The concept of specific heat capacity, a fundamental principle in thermodynamics and material science, it revolves around the measurement of the amount of heat energy required to change the temperature of a unit mass of a substance by one degree Celsius (or one Kelvin). This property is intrinsic to materials and varies widely across different substances, providing insights into their thermal behavior and applications in various fields.

The History of Specific Heat Capacity

The exploration of specific heat capacity dates back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with significant contributions from scientists like Joseph Black, who is credited with early investigations into heat and temperature changes in substances, though he didn’t use the term “specific heat capacity” in his work. The concept was further refined by scientists such as Pierre-Simon Laplace and Antoine Lavoisier, who began to quantify the relationship between heat, temperature change, and mass of materials. However, it was the work of Scottish physicist Joseph Black in the 18th century that laid the foundation for the modern understanding of specific heat capacity. Black’s experiments, particularly on the heating and cooling of water, illustrated that different substances required different amounts of heat to achieve the same change in temperature.

Importance and Applications of Specific Heat Capacity

Understanding specific heat capacity is crucial for various practical and scientific reasons. It plays a vital role in designing heating and cooling systems, studying climate change (by understanding the heat capacity of the Earth’s components), and in the culinary arts (considering how different ingredients heat up). Moreover, engineers use this knowledge in creating materials for specific applications where temperature regulation is key, such as thermal insulation or heat sinks in electronic devices.

Real-World Examples of Specific Heat Capacity Uses

  1. Climate Science: The Earth’s oceans have a higher specific heat capacity than land, meaning they absorb and release more heat, which moderates global climate by stabilizing temperatures.
  2. Culinary Arts: Cooking often involves understanding the specific heat capacities of ingredients, as this affects cooking times and methods. For example, water’s high specific heat capacity makes it an excellent medium for cooking foods evenly.
  3. Engineering and Technology: Materials with high specific heat capacities are used in heat sinks to protect electronic components from overheating, while those with low capacities are used in applications requiring quick temperature changes.

The Specific Heat Capacity Formula

c = \frac{Q}{m \delta T}


  • c – Specific Heat Capacity (J/ kgK)
  • Q – Energy/ Amount of heat supplied (J)
  • m – Mass (kg)
  • T – Temperature (°C)

How to Find/ Calculate Specific Heat Capacity?

  1. Determine the final and beginning temperature as well as the mass of the bodies you are studying.
  2. Subtract the final temperature from the initial temperature to give you the ΔT (°C) for the formula.
  3. Multiply the ΔT (°C) with the mass (kg) of the body you are studying.
  4. Divide the energy/ heat supplied (J) with the answer to step 3.

Specific Heat Capacity Calculator

This specialised calculator is designed to measure the heat capacity of samples, whether they are being heated or cooled. It quantifies the specific heat, which is the thermal energy required to raise the temperature of a 1 kg sample by 1 K. Continue reading to discover the proper application of the heat capacity formula for accurate outcomes.

Definition of Specific Heat Capacity at Constant Volume

Specific heat capacity refers to the amount of heat or energy needed to raise the temperature of a substance with a fixed volume by 1 degree Celsius per unit mass. The equation for calculating this is given by Cv = Q / (m × ΔT), where Cv represents the specific heat capacity at constant volume.

How Is Specific Heat Capacity Calculated?

The calculation for the specific heat capacity (c) involves the formula c = Q / (m * ΔT), where ‘c’ represents the specific heat capacity of a material with mass ‘m’. In this formula, ‘Q’ stands for the amount of energy introduced or removed, and ‘ΔT’ indicates the temperature variation experienced by the substance. For various processes, such as at constant volume (Cv) or constant pressure (Cp), the relationship between Cv and Cp is determined by the specific heat ratio (ɣ = Cp/Cv) or can be expressed through the gas constant ‘R’, calculated as R = Cp – Cv.

Specific Heat Capacity Youtube Video

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