A theoretical investigation of thermal waves

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


A unified and systematic study of one-dimensional heat conduction based on thermal relaxation is presented. Thermal relaxation is introduced through the constitutive equation (modified Fourier's law) which relates this heat flux and temperature. The resulting temperature and flux field equations become hyperbolic rather than the usual classical parabolic equations encountered in heat conduction. In this formulation, heat propagates at a finite speed and removes one of the anomalies associated to parabolic heat conduction, i.e., heat propagating at an infinite speed. In situations involving very short times, high heat fluxes, and cryogenic temperatures, a more exact constitutive relation must be introduced to preserve a finite speed to a thermal disturbance.

The general one-dimensional temperature and flux formulations for the three standard orthogonal coordinate systems are presented. The general solution, in the temperature domain, is developed by the finite integral transform technique. The basic physics and mathematics are demonstrated by reviewing Taitel's problem. Then attention is turned to the effects of radially dependent systems, such as the case of a cylinder and sphere. Various thermal disturbances are studied showing the unusual physics associated with dissipative wave equations. The flux formulation is shown to be a viable alternative domain to develop the flux distribution. Once the flux distribution has been established, the temperature distribution may be obtained through the conservation of energy.

Linear one-dimensional composite regions are then investigated in detail. The general temperature and flux formulations are developed for the three standard orthogonal coordinate systems. The general solution for the flux and temperature distributions are obtained in the flux domain using a generalized integral transform technique. Additional features associated with hyperbolic heat conduction are displayed through examples with various thermal disturbances.

A generalized expression for temperature dependent thermal conductivity is introduced and incorporated into the one-dimensional hyperbolic heat equation. An approximate analytical solution is obtained and compared with a standard numerical method.

Finally, recommendations for future analytical and experimental investigations are suggested.