Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Amanda just poured herself a cup of hot coffee to get her day started. She took her first sip and nearly burned her tongue. Since she didn't have much time to sit and wait for it to cool down, she put an ice cube in her coffee and stirred it with a metal spoon. After a moment, she felt the spoon warm up, but when she took another sip, the coffee was cooler. She was pretty sure, the ice added cold to her coffee, and the coffee added heat to her spoon.

Would you agree?

share|cite|improve this question
Seems like a 'yes-no' question to me. I believe that you could have put either, and explain why you felt it was that way, or put both and say for each why you would say so. – Jerry Apr 10 '13 at 16:13

Yes. The fluid is in contact with the spoon, and because the former is hotter than the latter, heat is transferred, resulting in the spoon getting warmer. About the ice cube: technically "adding cold" does not make much sense. The ice cube will melt due to heat transfer from the hotter to the colder medium, a process which cools the coffee. Furthermore, heat is transferred from coffee to water, also resulting in a cool-down.

share|cite|improve this answer

The most important thing about feeling is that its relative and depends on the temperature of sensor point on skin. That's the reason we need thermometer to measure temperature with which everyone could agree.

Energy transfer is involved here, but it has very little to do with Amanda's feeling. Amanda's tongue and mouth was at high temperature due to initial sip which caused her to feel next sip cooler which was really cool due to addition of ice.

In case of spoon, spoon can't get hotter because heat of coffee (and some of heat of spoon) was consumed in melting ice. But, Amanda felt the spoon warmer because her fingers were relatively cold due to ice touch.

share|cite|improve this answer

I definitely disagree.

Cold is a relative feeling, cant be added; Coffee will release temperature to equalize the temp.

share|cite|improve this answer
Not quite. Temperature is a measure of the average kinetic energy of molecules, so the coffee will release energy as heat in order to equalize the temp. – toothandsticks Apr 1 '15 at 16:57

I suppose you might think of the ice cube "adding cold" to the system, but by convention, we typically discuss these matters in terms of heat. If cold was an inverse of heat, we might say that removing heat from a system is the same as adding cold, but in order to be parallel with the scientific community, it would be wisest to say you are "removing heat."

Recall that two bodies in contact will wish to reach thermal equilibrium. So, by adding a cold ice cube, the higher amount of thermal energy in the hot coffee will begin to "leak" into the ice cube, which has a very low amount of thermal energy. These two systems will attempt to reach a thermal equilibrium, when the water from the ice cube and the coffee have the same amount of thermal energy.

Over time, the coffee will also lose thermal energy to the air as it heats up the immediately surrounding air.

The spoon is a the same story. Since it was initially cool (let us assume room temperature), it will be receiving thermal energy from the coffee (which has more thermal energy) and begin heating up. Assuming this spoon is metal, it will be a nice conductor of this energy, and the whole spoon will likely heat up easily. Due to this increase in thermal energy, the spoon would become hotter.

We could say that by becoming hotter, we "removed cold" from the spoon, but again, that is against general convention. We generally speak in terms of heat.

share|cite|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.