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Pork Vindaloo

Pork Vindaloo

Vindaloo or vindalu comes from a Portuguese d...

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Inner Workings of a Vacuum Flask

One way to build an insulated flask would be to take a jar and wrap it in, for example, foam insulation.

Insulation works by two principles.

First, the plastic in the foam is not a very good heat conductor.

Second, the air trapped in the foam is an even worse heat conductor.

So conduction has been reduced. Because the air is broken into tiny bubbles, the other thing foam insulation does is largely eliminate convection inside the foam.

Heat transfer through foam is therefore pretty small.

It turns out that there is an even better insulator than foam: a vacuum.

A vacuum is a lack of atoms.

A "perfect vacuum" contains zero atoms. It is nearly impossible to create a perfect vacuum, but you can get close. Without atoms you eliminate conduction and convection completely.

What you find in a Vacuum Flask is a glass or stainless steel envelope holding a vacuum.

A Vacuum Flask then goes one step further. The inside is shiny reflective (like a mirror) to reduce infrared radiation. The combination of a vacuum and the reflective surface greatly reduces heat transfer by convection, conduction and radiation.

So why do hot things in a Vacuum Flask ever cool down? 

There are two paths for heat transfer. The big one is the cap.
The other one is the actual vacuum chamber, which provides a conduction path at the top of the flask where the inner and outer walls meet. Although heat transfer through these paths is small, it is not zero.

Does the Vacuum Flask know whether the fluid inside it is hot or cold?
All the Vacuum Flask is doing is limiting heat transfer through the walls of the Flask. That lets the fluid inside the Vacuum Flask keep its temperature nearly constant for a long period of time (whether the temperature is hot or cold).