Simple Science Experiments: All About Insulation - MetroFamily Magazine
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Simple Science Experiments: All About Insulation

by Steve Davala

Ever pack a hot liquid in a thermos? Wonder why that liquid in there stays hot for so long? Or how about your house… you know there is “insulation” in the walls and attic, so how does it work? This month’s simple science experiment gets you testing different materials to see how well they can keep materials hot or cold.

Materials:

  • 2 coffee cans or same size/material containers with lids
  • two smaller containers that will fit inside of the larger ones
  • ice cubes
  • a timer or a clock
  • various materials that you think can work well to keep things cold
  • Depending on what materials you use, you may have to find a bigger container to hold the smaller. A large bowl would work ok, just cover it with a cutting board.
  • Examples of materials to put in the containers: cut up paper, rags, water… Think of some more!

Procedure:

  • Put the smaller cups/container inside the larger ones.
  • Surround one of the smaller containers with whatever material you want to test. Some materials may be easier than others to put in. For example, you might want to start by pouring water around the cup inside to see how that works to keep the ice from melting.
  • Put an ice cube in each of the containers. The one you didn’t put any materials in will be your “control” group, or the thing that you can compare your changes to. This way you can see if your changes make things better or worse!
  • Cover each container and start your timer/check the time on the clock.
  • Check back often to see how well your material is working. Depending on your room temperature and insulating material, the ice should be melted within twenty minutes.
  • Record how long it took for each cube to be melted.
  • Repeat the experiment with another type of insulating material!

How it Works:

A heat or thermal insulator works best when there is a way to trap air in between spaces. Some of the best ones that you can find around the house like this are Styrofoam (those work well because they are so light for all the space it takes up… a lot of air spaces in between the foam) and goose down. Now, don’t go ripping up pillows or blankets for this! You might be able to just wrap a blanket around a container. Ask your mom or dad.

Experiment further! Does experiment work the same when you try to keep things hot? Can you try to make or design your own thermos? Do a little research into the best insulator in the world: Aerogel. This material is 99% air! Ask your questions, and get them answered!

I hope you enjoyed this simple experiment and learned a little bit about insulation. If you have more questions about this, or need tips about science fair ideas around this topic (or others), feel free to contact me.

Steve Davala is a middle school science teacher who likes to write. He’s got two kids of his own and subjects them to these science activities as guinea pigs.

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