As noted previously, thermal conductivity is a thermodynamic property of a material. From the State Postulate given in thermodynamics, it may be recalled that thermodynamic properties of pure substances are functions of two independent thermodynamic intensive properties, say temperature and pressure. Thermal conductivity of real gases is largely independent of pressure and may be considered a function of temperature alone. For solids and liquids, properties are largely independent of pressure and depend on temperature alone.
k = k (T)
Table 2 gives the values of thermal conductivity for a variety of materials.
Material Thermal Conductivity, W/m K
It is important that the student gain a basic perspective of the magnitude of thermal conductivity for various materials. The background for this comes from the introductory Chemistry courses. Molecules of various materials gain energy through various mechanisms. Gases exhibit energy through the kinetic energy of the molecule. Energy is gained or lost through collisions of gaseous molecules as they travel through the medium.
Solids, being are much more stationary, cannot effectively transfer energy through these same mechanisms. Instead, solids may exhibit energy through vibration or rotation of the nucleus. Another important mechanism in which materials maintain energy is by shifting electrons into higher orbital rings. In the case of electrical conductors the electrons are weakly bonded to the molecule and can drift from one molecule to another transporting their energy with them. This is an especially effective transport mechanism, so that materials which are excellent electrical conductors are excellent thermal conductors.