This month we’re going to learn about the differences between heat and temperature. Aren’t they the same thing? Well, in chemistry terms, not really. Hopefully, by the end of these experiments you will have a different perspective on how you really perceive temperature.
A metal sauce pan, a plastic cup or bowl, ice cubes, a thermometer if you have one (not necessary)
Put a metal pan and a plastic bowl into the fridge
Put the thermometer in the fridge
Let them stay there for 10 minutes or so
Read the thermometer, or at this point assume that the pan and the bowl are the same temperature as the fridge and each other
How should they feel? Both cold? One colder than the other? Take them out and hold them to see how they feel
Strange! The metal pan feels considerably colder than the bowl! But aren’t they the same temperature? So here is where you need to know what the difference is between those two words, heat and temperature. Temperature is determined by the energy within the material’s particles, or how fast the particles are moving. Slow movement is a low amount of energy and vice versa. Heat is determined by the transfer of energy from one thing to another.
So what is going on here? Yes the temperature is the same, but what is different between the two materials? The metal pan is a conductor, and really good at transferring energy. So you feel the heat being pulled from your hand to the warm up the pan quicker than your hand to the plastic bowl. Plastic is a good insulator, or something that prevents energy flow. Want another example? Pick up a plastic spoon and a metal spoon, and which do you think will feel colder?
So what about the ice cubes in the materials list? In your pursuit of knowledge of heat, try placing an ice cube on different materials to see how quickly ice melts on them. If heat is the transfer of energy and you learned that certain materials conduct heat better than others, how quickly do you think ice will melt on different things? Just make sure not to get things too wet, all right?
Steve Davala is a high school chemistry teacher who likes to write. He’s got two kids of his own and subjects them to these science activities as guinea pigs.