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Warm and Toasty

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Author Contact Information

Peter M. Amati, Jr.
Holliston High School
Holliston, Ma. 01746
School Phone 508-429-0677

In this activity, students will employ the concepts of calorie, specific heat and heat capacity of different fabrics. Students will be charged with investigating the insulating capacity of various materials with the goal in mind of designing insulated underwear for a trip to Antarctica. To do so, student research teams , under the leadership of their PIs (See Is Your Underwear Cool ? for methods of establishing research teams), will brainstorm possible protocols to measure, tabulate and analyze the insulating capacities of the of various fabrics and conduct experiment.

The students will:

  • design an experiment to measure the rate of heat loss from a known quantity of water
  • compare the rate of heat loss by different materials
  • compare the change in temperature as a function of time for each material tested
  • compare the quantity of heat loss per square centimeter of material as a function of time

Grade Level/Discipline
Grades 9-12, but may be adapted to middle school

National Standards

  1. Physical Science Content Standard B Grades Benchmarks 1A, 2A, 3A, 1B, 1C, 3C, 4D,4E
State Standard: Massachusetts' frameworks
  1. Strand 1 Inquiry #'s 1 -34
  2. Strand 2 Domains of Science
  3. Physical Science #'s 17, 23, 28, 29, 48, 51 Life Science #'s 46, 47, 53, 65
  4. Earth and Space Science #'s 46, ,63, 65
  5. Strand 3 Technology #'s 2, 6, 10, 15, 16, 18, 19, 27, 32, 37, 38, 40, 53, 54, 56, 60, 61, 62, 63, 78
  6. Strand 4 Science Technology and Human Affairs #'s 2, 3, 10, 11, 15, 16

Pre-activity set-up

  • obtain samples of 16 different types of material
  • obtain 32 test tubes
  • obtain 32 thermometers
  • have water warmed to 40 C
  • balance


Time Frame
Two class periods (approximately 55 minutes per period)

Engagement and Exploration (Student Inquiry Activity)
Have the class read Amati's journal entry of 6/5/92 that discusses, rather vividly, the conditions under which they had to work. ../../amati/6.5.1992.html Kids should brainstorm conditions they need to consider in designing underwear.

Kids should come up with concerns about insulation, about getting wet from sweat while working, about the weight of the gear, about the ability to move in the gear. Concerns about going to the bathroom must also be addressed. If class does not respond to journal arcticle read and discuss the following paragraph. This should help to set the scenario that you are trying work through:

"You are working on a sea ice research team taking ice cores from the Weddell Sea in -40°C weather. You will work on the ice for a time span from 4 - 8 hours. This is after spending 1/2 hour getting all your ECW gear on, (Don't forget 'to go potty' first before your get dressed. You do remember how it was when your mom got you dressed in your snow suite and then Nature called'. This is a bigger pain now, for you have an entire sea ice team and a multimillion dollar RV/IB waiting for you to pee.) You have to maintain your body heat or die."

Have the PIs take charge of the research teams. There has to be leader. PIs now list on the board concepts that the research teams come up with that will have to be looked at to address the problem being looked at. What is it that is being looked at? How can this information be reported?

These should include the difference between temperature and heat; the idea that insulation has to deal with the loss of heat over time; and the idea that total surface area of the person is important. The use of tabulation of data is critical; but, more importantly there must be graphical representation of the data. If class an PIs do not come up with the following graphs , the suggestion these be used is highly recommended. (Temperature as a function of time; heat lost as a function of time, and heat lost per centimeter square as function of time.

Have PIs , using a consensus of groups, lay out one protocol that is to be followed by all groups in the testing of materials to determine which is the best insulator. Agreement as to what and how data sets are to be reported must be established.

A protocol that has worked is:

  • wrap cloth around test tube (How tube is wrapped can lead to great discussion of consistency, benefits and/or drawbacks of one method over another.)

  • put 20 ml of 40 C water into test tube and record temperature, as water cools to that of room, every 30 seconds (Opportunity here for many variables). Why not more water? Kids initially tried 60 ml; but, it took too long for lab period. Great learning experience! They get same information by using smaller volume of water so that lab can be done within time and monetary constraints (Remember we are in the Antarctic and have limited facilities and time). Why water at 40 C? Why not 100 C? As can be seen the opportunity for expansion of variables is endless.
Allow the groups to run the experiment (protocol) that was agreed upon.

Explanation (Discussing)
Discuss students' observations.

What did they find about the insulating capacities of the different fabrics? This will vary with materials used; but, of 16 fabrics tried each showed a significant insulating capability over the control, test. N.B. there is no one "right" answer.

Of the types of materials employed which of the samples provided the best insulating capacity? This will vary with samples used. This will serve as a great lead into another lab in this set, the looking at the mass and/or cost of materials to be used in the manufacturing of a new underwear for a trip to Antarctica.

Elaboration (Polar Applications)
Set the scene by explaining that students will be role-playing the parts of clothing designers developing long underwear for a sea ice research team taking ice cores from the Weddell Sea.

Ask students to read about Peter Amati's research in the Weddell Sea on the Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic web site ../../tea_amatifrontpage.html

In parcticular, note the journal entry from June 6, 1992 ../../amati/6.5.1992.html In this entry, Peter describes the extreme cold and dryness of Antarctica.

Another interesting reference can be found on the GLACIER web site at ../../expedition/2_trainingcamp.html

Students should use the information they find to inform their long underwear design team.

Student teams research temperatures and conditions found in the Weddell Sea.

Weddell Sea conditions can be found on the GLACIER web site at ../../weather/weather.html

. The two closest sites to the Weddell Sea are Butler Island ../../weather/butlerisland.html or Ski Hi ../../weather/skihi.html

Direct teams to use the GLACIER web site at ../../weather/weather.html to find the lowest temperature recorded at McMurdo Station , Palmer Station, and South Pole station for the Month of May.

Students should make a chart of the lowest temperatures found at various points around the continent (location sited above). But, notice that none are such that one would want to go "skinny dipping".

Exchange (Students Draw Conclusions)
Student PIs present graphed data acquired from all research teams and lead discussion that will lead to a consensus as to which material was most effective insulating material was most effective. Transparencies of pooled data sets showing graphs of temperature as a function of time and heat lost as a function of time work very well.

Evaluation (Assessing Student Performance)
Rubric dealing with formal lab report and graphed data sets.

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