Which material conducts heat better, wood, plastic, or metal? In this experiment, we learn about conducting heat and how various materials conduct heat differently.
Note: Although the materials for this experiment are easy to find, one of the materials is boiling hot water. Depending on the age of your children the help of an adult is important. See our demonstration video and printable instructions below.
- Small Glass Bowl
- Three Spoons (1 made out of wood, 1 made out of plastic and 1 made out of metal)
- 3 Beads
- Boiling Water
Step 1 – Begin by positioning 3 spoons in a small glass bowl.
Step 2 – Place a small pat of butter at the top of each spoon.
Step 3 – Put a bead in each pat of butter.
Step 4 – Carefully pour hot boiling water into the bowl until it is almost completely full. Be careful not to allow the spoons to fall into the bowl.
Step 5 – Watch carefully to see what happens to the beads. Write down your observations. Did all the beads behave the same? Do you know why? Find out the answer in the how does this experiment work section below.
Helpful Tip: You will likely need to watch the experiment for 5-10 minutes before anything happens.
Heat can move in three ways: conduction, convection and radiation. In this experiment, the heat was transferred by means of conduction.
Conduction is the transfer of heat from one particle of matter to another without the movement of matter itself. As matter is heated, the particles that make up the matter begin to move faster.
In this experiment when we placed the spoons in the boiling water, the fast-moving water particles collide with the slow-moving spoon particles. As a result of the collision between the water particles and spoon particles, the particles of the spoon begin to move faster and the metal spoon becomes hotter. As the metal spoon gets hotter, the butter begins to melt and the bead slides down the spoon.
Why did the bead slide down the metal spoon faster than the wooden spoon or plastic spoon? Metal is a good conductor of heat, while wood and plastic are good insulators. A conductor transfers thermal energy (heat) well, while an insulator does not transfer thermal energy (heat) well.
I hope you enjoyed the experiment. Here are some printable instructions: