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Keeping warm investigation

Surviving in the extreme conditions of the Polar Regions is very hard and explorers need a lot of kit to survive. One of the most important properties they are looking for in materials is insulation. In this activity, you will investigate different materials and see how good they are as insulators.

Ages 10+

(adult supervision)

25 minutes

In this activity, you will investigate the insulating properties of three different materials. You will then need to use these findings to make a recommendation on which material to use for clothing on a polar expedition.

Activity Keeping Warm Figure 1

Activity steps

  1. Half fill your three cups with warm water (no warmer than 43°C or 110°F).
  2. Measure the temperatures and record these for each of the different materials on a separate piece of paper.
  3. Quickly and carefully put the lids on your cups and wrap each one in a different material using the elastic bands to keep the material in place.
  4. Place the cups in a cool environment, e.g. a fridge.
  5. Leave them for 15 minutes, use the stopwatch to time this. Can you guess or predict which material will keep the water warmest?
  6. Collect your containers and unwrap them carefully.
  7. Measure the temperatures again and record these new temperatures for each of the different materials on your sheet of paper.
  8. Work out the difference between the temperatures before and after the experiment.
  9. The material that shows the lowest decrease is the one which is the best insulator. Was your prediction correct? Would you choose this material for your next polar expedition?

Expected results

The results will depend on the materials used; however, expect ‘fluffy’ materials to be better insulators as they trap air.

Safety guidance

  • Do not use boiling water. The recommended safe limit is 43°C.
  • Carry the containers with two hands, carefully observing the environment around you.
  • Breaks should be reported to an adult immediately, instead of attempting to clear yourself.
  • Where possible, use break safe thermometers.
  • Use thermometers with an anti-roll cap. If this is not possible, use a cup to place the thermometers in, when they are not in use.

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