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24 January, 2001

Early in the spring of 2000, I was invited to attend the TEA orientation at the NSF building just outside of Washington DC, to learn what my actual role and responsibilities would be, and how the TEA program runs. It was early spring in Washington and the air was filled with the sweet smell of blossoming flowers, smells that were still months away in frozen northern New England. Back home it was mud season. The only time of the year where you envy your neighbor with the six inch lift kit and no exhaust on their Honda prelude.

On the flight back home, I spent some time trying to come up with ways to involve my students in the Antarctic experience. I hoped to figure out a way to make it OUR Antarctic experience. The rest of the time was spent trying to figure out lunch.

As a chemistry teacher, I have tried many different ways to get young people involved and interested in learning. While not everything works, I still struggle with quantum mechanics, I have found some common techniques. People are more interested and involved in a project if they have personal investment or interest. While this seems to be common sense, think of the money that was spent on my college education to discover this. My father does.

One of my solutions for involving students in the Antarctica experience was to have them design an experiment that I would take with me. Working with the physics teacher, Carl Mehrbach, we decided to have his students design experiments around the topic of heat transfer. For those of you who have been away from physics for awhile, this topic involves the following three methods: conduction, convection and radiation. The students were presented a problem, they designed an experiment to answer this question and spent two days working out the procedure and equipment needed. In the end one of the experiments was selected and a duplicate set of the experimental equipment was assembled. One set of the equipment was to remain at school and the other was to be taken with me to Antarctica.

In the end the experiment I brought with me was three aluminum blocks that each have a hole drilled in them the size of the temperature probe. Also each block is painted a different color: red, green and black. Other equipment I brought was a Texas Instrument TI-83 calculator, a Vernier Lab Pro and three temperature probes.

The equipment used in high school science classes has really changed in the last 5 years. I attribute this change to a growth in the technology industry and a new generation of students who have grown up with this technology. The Vernier Lab Pro is an interface between the calculator and the temperature probes. Using a program designed for the TI calculator, I can tell the interface what probe I am using, calibrate my probes and then set how and what type of data to collect.

This paragraph is going to be somewhat nerdy, I apologize, let's sit back and discuss light. White light, like from the sun, is composed of all colors. The individual components of white light can be seen whenever sunlight passes through a raindrop, the result is a rainbow or ROYGBIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue indigo and violet). Additionally, different colors absorb different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. The colors that we see are what is reflected not absorbed by the material. For example a red block would absorb all the colors except red, red light is reflected back. White objects reflect all light and black objects absorb all light. The last piece to this story is that light is also energy. Red, yellow and orange colors contain less energy than the darker colors. That is why black colors are best avoided on blue sky perfect, 95 degree summer days. Unless you are testing your deodorant.

The students' experiment is simply to place a set of the blocks outside in the dry valley and a set outside in Hanover, New Hampshire. Then a comparison could be made between the amounts of energy each block absorbs. Would the results be different due to the fact that the southern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun, giving us summer here while the northern hemisphere is experiencing winter? Would the ozone hole play a factor since all forms of the electromagnetic spectrum, not just color, would be penetrating? In the north the ozone is filtering out parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. Is Elvis alive and living here at the south pole...

The experimental set-up

The experimental results. The aluminum blocks and how they were connected to the temperature probes are: channel 1 is the green block, channel 2 is the red and channel 3 is the black.

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