Newton’s ‘Hot Block’ Experiment 300 Years Later: Radiation, Conduction, and the Way Objects Cool

In general, objects cool by one or more of four different processes: conduction, convection, evaporation, and radiation. While Master of the Royal Mint at a time well before the principles of thermodynamics were established, Isaac Newton published an anonymous paper creating a practical temperature scale based on the rate of cooling of an iron block. Some 300 years later my son and I performed variations of the ‘hot block’ experiment in our kitchen and found that ‘Newton’s Law of Cooling’ did not work well. Our own thermodynamically-derived law of cooling fits the data much better.

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