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How to calculate thermal expansion of steel

Updated September 03, 2018

Like most materials, steel expands when the surrounding temperature increases. Each material has a different response to heat, which is characterised by its thermal expansion coefficient. The thermal expansion coefficient represents the amount that the material expands per each degree increase. To calculate how much a length of steel will increase, you need to know how much the temperature increases and the original length of the steel.

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Use a thermometer to measure the change in temperature in degrees Fahrenheit. For example, if the original temperature was 21.1 degrees C (70F) and the final temperature was 23.9 degrees C (75F), you would have a temperature increase of 2.8 degrees C.

Multiply the temperature change by 7.2x10^-6, which is the expansion coefficient for steel. Continuing the example, you would multiply 0.0000072 by 2.8 to get 0.00002016.

Multiply the product of the expansion coefficient and the temperature increase by the original length of the steel.

Therefore, if the steel rod was originally 100 cm (34 inches) long, you would multiply 100 by 0.00002016 to find that the steel would be 0.002016 cm longer.

Tip

If you are calculating the change in area rather than length, multiply the increase in length by two to find the area increase. If you are calculating the change in volume, multiply the increase in length by three to find the volume increase.

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Things You'll Need

  • Calculator
  • Thermometer

About the Author

Mark Kennan is a writer based in the Kansas City area, specializing in personal finance and business topics. He has been writing since 2009 and has been published by "Quicken," "TurboTax," and "The Motley Fool."

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