Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Heat Energy and Surface
Name: Thomas
Status: student
Age: 14
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2000-2001

Which type of surface, dull or shiny, absorbs the most heat energy?


I assume that by heat energy you mean radiant energy, the type that requires no intermediary medium for its transfer, sunlight, for an example, which is transmitted across vast space vacuum.

In general, the NET absorption by a surface depends on its absorptivity, transmissivity, reflectivity, and emissivity. At the same time that a surface absorbs or transmits light, it also emits and reflects incoming radiation.

A shiny surface (shiny as seen in visible light) is likely to reflect a larger portion of thermal radiation it receives than a dull surface. In that sense, the net thermal radiation absorption by a dull surface is higher than a shiny surface of the same material and geometry.

As a qualifying statement, I should add that there are variety and degrees to dullness and shininess, and it may be possible (due to a variety of special circumstances) to have a material with a shiny surface that absorbs more than a slightly less shiny one , but this is more of an exception than a rule.


Ali Khounsary, Ph.D.
Advanced Photon Source
Argonne National Laboratory

Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory