Experience Science: Heat It Up

By September 30, 2016Education
Melting ice cubes on a metal tabletop. blue reflective surface

Which material moves heat the fastest?

Make predictions about how quickly some common household items will transfer heat. Then figure out why some materials feel colder to the touch, even they’re all at room temperature.

Kids, have a grown up gather all your supplies and get everything ready!

What You’ll Need:

  • Ice cubes
  • Plastic cutting board
  • Metal cookie sheet
  • Sponge or paper towels (for cleanup)
  • Notebook and pencil (to make predictions)

Optional:  Other house hold items made of different materials such as a Styrofoam plate, a wooden cutting board, a ceramic dish, etc. can be added too.

Step 1: kids, look at the different kitchen items. Touch them. Do you think they’re the same temperature? Make a prediction about which one will melt an ice cube the fastest.

Step 2: Now, place an ice cube on each kitchen item. Watch closely! Do the ice cubes melt at the same rate? Try your melting the ice cubes on the optional items now.

Step 3: Line up the items in the order that they melted slowest to fastest. Compare the results to your predictions. How close were you?

What’s the science?

The common kitchen items are made of different materials. They’re all room temperature, but even though the metal items feels colder to the touch, it actually makes the ice melt faster.

When you touch something made of metal, the heat from your hand quickly transfers away into the metal. This leaves your hand feeling cold. But when you touch something made of plastic, only a little heat slowly flows away from your hand. So your hand still feels warm. Heat transfers quickly from a metal pan to an ice cube, melting it very quickly. But heat only slowly transfers to the ice cube on the plastic cutting board, making it melt more slowly.

The difference happens because of thermal conductivity. Thermal conductivity measures how quickly heat flows through a material. Metal has a higher thermal conductivity and plastic has a lower thermal conductivity.

Safety: Kids, please have adult supervision. Do not consume ice as it may be a choking hazard. Avoid using additional objects that may be a choking hazard.

This fun experiment can be found with many others in: DIY NANO, Do-it-yourself science activities that investigate the nanoscale – the scale of atoms and molecules!