heat capacity or thermal capacity, ratio of the change in heat energy of a unit mass of a substance to the change in temperature of the substance; like its melting point or boiling point, the heat capacity is a characteristic of a substance. The measurement of heat and heat capacity is called calorimetry. In the metric system, heat capacity is often expressed in units of calories per gram per degree Celsius (cal/g-°C); in the English system, British thermal units per pound per degree Fahrenheit (Btu/lb-°F) are often used. Because of the definitions of the calorie and Btu, these two heat capacity units are equivalent; the heat capacity of pure water is 1 cal/g-°C and 1 Btu/lb-°F. Other units are used also; for example, the heat capacity of pure water is 4.184 joules/g-°C and 1.16x10 - 6 kilowatt-hours/g-°C. The heat capacity of a system such as a calorimeter refers to the ratio of the change in heat energy of the system as a whole to the change in its temperature and is expressed in such units as calories per degree Celsius. See also specific heat.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.