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Demonstration : thermal conductivity


To demonstrate the ability of different substances to conduct heat.


You will need two cups (made from the same material e.g. plastic); a metal spoon and a plastic spoon.


  • Pour boiling water into the two cups so that they are about half full.
  • At the same time, place a metal spoon into one cup and a plastic spoon in the other.
  • Note which spoon heats up more quickly

Be careful when working with boiling water and when you touch the spoons as you can easily burn yourself.


The metal spoon heats up faster than the plastic spoon. In other words, the metal conducts heat well, but the plastic does not.


Metal is a good thermal conductor, while plastic is a poor thermal conductor. This explains why cooking pots are metal, but their handles are often plastic or wooden. The pot itself must be metal so that heat from the cooking surface can heat up the pot to cook the food inside it, but the handle is made from a poor thermal conductor so that the heat does not burn the hand of the person who is cooking.

An insulator is a material that does not allow a transfer of electricity or energy. Materials that are poor thermal conductors can also be described as being good thermal insulators.

Interesting fact

Water is a better thermal conductor than air and conducts heat away from the body about 20 times more efficiently than air. A person who is not wearing a wetsuit, will lose heat very quickly to the water around them and can be vulnerable to hypothermia (this is when the body temperature drops very low). Wetsuits help to preserve body heat by trapping a layer of water against the skin. This water is then warmed by body heat and acts as an insulator. Wetsuits are made out of closed-cell, foam neoprene. Neoprene is a synthetic rubber that contains small bubbles of nitrogen gas when made for use as wetsuit material. Nitrogen gas has very low thermal conductivity, so it does not allow heat from the body (or the water trapped between the body and the wetsuit) to be lost to the water outside of the wetsuit. In this way a person in a wetsuit is able to keep their body temperature much higher than they would otherwise.

Investigation : a closer look at thermal conductivity

Look at the table below, which shows the thermal conductivity of a number of different materials, and then answer the questions that follow. The higher the number in the second column, the better the material is at conducting heat (i.e. it is a good thermal conductor). Remember that a material that conducts heat efficiently, will also lose heat more quickly than an insulating material.

Material Thermal Conductivity ( W · m - 1 · K - 1 )
Silver 429
Stainless steel 16
Standard glass 1.05
Concrete 0.9 - 2
Red brick 0.69
Water 0.58
Snow 0.25 - 0.5
Wood 0.04 - 0.12
Polystyrene 0.03
Air 0.024

Use this information to answer the following questions:

  1. Name two materials that are good thermal conductors.
  2. Name two materials that are good insulators.
  3. Explain why:
    1. cooler boxes are often made of polystyrene
    2. homes that are made from wood need less internal heating during the winter months.
    3. igloos (homes made from snow) are so good at maintaining warm temperatures, even in freezing conditions.

Questions & Answers

what is variations in raman spectra for nanomaterials
Jyoti Reply
I only see partial conversation and what's the question here!
Crow Reply
what about nanotechnology for water purification
RAW Reply
please someone correct me if I'm wrong but I think one can use nanoparticles, specially silver nanoparticles for water treatment.
yes that's correct
I think
what is the stm
Brian Reply
is there industrial application of fullrenes. What is the method to prepare fullrene on large scale.?
industrial application...? mmm I think on the medical side as drug carrier, but you should go deeper on your research, I may be wrong
How we are making nano material?
what is a peer
What is meant by 'nano scale'?
What is STMs full form?
scanning tunneling microscope
how nano science is used for hydrophobicity
Do u think that Graphene and Fullrene fiber can be used to make Air Plane body structure the lightest and strongest. Rafiq
what is differents between GO and RGO?
what is simplest way to understand the applications of nano robots used to detect the cancer affected cell of human body.? How this robot is carried to required site of body cell.? what will be the carrier material and how can be detected that correct delivery of drug is done Rafiq
what is Nano technology ?
Bob Reply
write examples of Nano molecule?
The nanotechnology is as new science, to scale nanometric
nanotechnology is the study, desing, synthesis, manipulation and application of materials and functional systems through control of matter at nanoscale
Is there any normative that regulates the use of silver nanoparticles?
Damian Reply
what king of growth are you checking .?
What fields keep nano created devices from performing or assimulating ? Magnetic fields ? Are do they assimilate ?
Stoney Reply
why we need to study biomolecules, molecular biology in nanotechnology?
Adin Reply
yes I'm doing my masters in nanotechnology, we are being studying all these domains as well..
what school?
biomolecules are e building blocks of every organics and inorganic materials.
anyone know any internet site where one can find nanotechnology papers?
Damian Reply
sciencedirect big data base
Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
The fundamental frequency of a sonometer wire streached by a load of relative density 's'are n¹ and n² when the load is in air and completly immersed in water respectively then the lation n²/na is
Mukesh Reply
Properties of longitudinal waves
Sharoon Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Siyavula textbooks: grade 10 physical science [caps]. OpenStax CNX. Sep 30, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11305/1.7
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