# Is it customary to express heat loss as a negative number?

In my chemistry class, we had a problem akin to the following:

If an object with mass bla and specific heat bla is placed into a bla g calorimeter with an initial temperature of bla and a specific heat of bla, and the temperature of the calorimeter rises to bla at the end of the experiment, how much heat was lost by the object?

I performed the calculations and got an answer of, let's say, $8 J$. When I submitted this answer, I was told that it was wrong, and the correct answer would have been $-8 J$. Wouldn't this response to the above question mean that the object gained heat?

• Sign conventions have always been a bit of an issue in chemistry, especially in introductory courses. I agree with your interpretation in this case, but what might have been meant by the question was to state the heat change of the object, in which case -8J follows standard convention. Nov 3 '13 at 8:52
• It is better to say it as a convention, than saying it as a customary. It is convention that, one hand we consider as right, and the other as left. One may assume the vice versa case. It would not be wrong. Nov 3 '13 at 21:30
• I guess what I'm asking is whether I'm right or wrong.
– Undo
Nov 3 '13 at 21:31
• Note that physicists and chemists use different sign conventions for work, and I've seen some variation in the convention for heat, too. Nov 5 '13 at 10:58
• In cases such as these, I think it can be useful to explicitly write out that "$8 J$ of heat is released", or "considering the convention that negative energies correspond to heat release, the energy involved in the process is $-8 J$" to cut through any ambiguity. Nov 5 '13 at 11:47