man walking across coals

Source: Firewalker, pinkangelbabe, flikr

Can you walk on hot coals like the man in the picture? There are several reasons why this man can walk on hot coals. One reason is because of the heat capacity of his feet. It requires a large amount of energy that is transferred from the coals to change the temperature of the man's feet.

Once the wood burns down to coal, we have almost pure carbon. Carbon is a poor conductor of heat. It takes a pretty long time for heat to transfer from the red hot coal to the firewalker's skin. If we replaced the coals with red-hot metal (an excellent conductor of heat) the heat transfer would be rapid enough to cause severe burns on the firewalker's feet.

Also, the coals are covered with ash which is a very good insulator. With the coals covered in the ash insulator, they transfer their heat even more slowly.

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The short amount of time his feet are in the coals also helps him keep from getting burned. If the firewalker stood still on the coals for several seconds, he would get burns on the bottom of his feet. In walking quickly, he shortens the amount of time he is in contact with the coals. His foot, therefore, doesn't get hot enough to burn.