Why Does Copper Conduct Heat Well?

copper-conduct-heat-well Credit: Eric Futran - Chefshots/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Copper is a good conductor of heat because it contains a lattice of vibrating ions that allow electrons to move freely. Copper's ability to transfer heat quickly makes it a suitable material for copper plates, pipes and heat sinks.

Copper requires just a few electrons to conduct heat. When a free electron collides with an ion on the hot part of the copper surface, it gains kinetic energy (it speeds up). Following this process, the electrons move to the cold end of the copper surface and collide with the "cold ions" to make them vibrate so that they can heat up the cold part of the surface. Copper metal has a relatively high melting point and a strong resistance to corrosion, which makes it useful in many heating applications.

According to HowStuffWorks, the thermal conductivity of copper is 400 W/mK, which makes it ideal for components that require an extensive amount of heat dissipation, such as computer heat sinks and motherboards. Although metals such as silver, gold and aluminum are sometimes used as conductors of electrical current, copper is still the most popular material used for wires because it is a very good conductor and fairly inexpensive compared to gold and silver.