A method of transferring heat by the actual movement of heated molecules, usually by a freestanding unit, such as a furnace.
Convection cannot take place in most solids because neither bulk current flows nor significant diffusion of matter can take place. Diffusion of heat takes place in rigid solids, but that is called heat conduction. Convection, however, can take place in soft solids or mixtures where solid particles can move past each other.
Thermal convection can be demonstrated by placing a heat source (e.g. a Bunsen burner) at the side of a glass full of a liquid, and observing the changes in temperature in the glass caused by the warmer fluid circulating into cooler areas.
Convective heat transfer is one of the major types of heat transfer, and convection is also a major mode of mass transfer in fluids. Convective heat and mass transfer take place both by diffusion – the random Brownian motion of individual particles in the fluid – and by advection, in which matter or heat is transported by the larger-scale motion of currents in the fluid. In the context of heat and mass transfer, the term "convection" is used to refer to the sum of advective and diffusive transfer. Sometimes the term "convection" is used to refer specifically to "free heat convection" (natural heat convection) which is due to temperature-induced differences in buoyancy, as opposed to "forced heat convection" where forces other than buoyancy (such as pump or fan) move the fluid. However, in mechanics the correct use of the word "convection" is the general sense, and different types of convection should be qualified for clarity.
Convection can be qualified in terms of being natural, forced, gravitational, granular, or thermomagnetic. It may also be said to be due to combustion, capillary action, or Marangoni and Weissenberg effects. Heat transfer by natural convection plays a role in the structure of Earth's atmosphere, its oceans, and its mantle. Discrete convective cells in the atmosphere can be seen as clouds, with stronger convection resulting in thunderstorms. Natural convection also plays a role in stellar physics.