melting point, temperature at which a substance changes its state from solid to liquid. Under standard atmospheric pressure different pure crystalline solids will each melt at a different specific temperature; thus melting point is a characteristic of a substance and can be used to identify it. When heat is applied continuously and in sufficient quantity to such solids, the temperature rises steadily until it reaches the point at which liquefaction occurs. Here the rise ceases and no further change in temperature is observed until all of the substance has been converted to liquid. The heat being applied to the substance at that temperature is consumed in bringing about the change of state, and none is available to raise the temperature of that part of the substance already liquefied until all of it has changed to the liquid. If heat is still applied when liquefaction is complete, the temperature will begin to rise again. The quantity of heat necessary to change one gram of any substance from solid to liquid at its melting point is known as its latent heat of fusion and differs for different substances. Ice, for example, requires approximately 80 calories of heat to change each gram to water at its melting point. Because its heat of fusion is relatively high, ice is used in refrigeration. In freezing (the reverse process, i.e., the change from liquid to solid), heat is given off by the substance undergoing the change, and the amount given off is the same as that absorbed in melting.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.