I Built a Calorimeter and Determined the Specific Heat of a Metal

That title sounds like I am awesome smart doesn’t it?

In reality, I just stuck two Styrofoam cups together and plugged numbers into an equation.  Do I still sound awesome smart?  Didn’t think so.

We just finished Module 2 of Exploring Creation with Chemistry by Jay Wile. For Experiment 2.2 a calorimeter is needed to perform the experiment.  Styrofoam cups are a great insulators, so they work well as a calorimeter.

A calorimeter is a device used to measure quantities of absorbed or released heat or for determining specific heats.

Lab 2.2 requires two styrofoam cups, but does not state there should be a top on the cups. I kept thinking a lot of heat will be lost out the top.  So, I took a look in the All Lab, No Lecture book and it gives instructions on how to make a lid for the cups.

You need two circles for each calorimeter.  I made one for each student to save time in the classroom.  I bought two thick foam sheets from Michale’s and cut one 3 1/8″ diameter and the other 2 3/4″ diameter.


Elemer’s Glue was used to glue the first two together, which didn’t work very well.  A hot glue gun works a lot better.   Glue the smaller circle to the larger one.


Drill a hole through the center of both lids.  The hole needs to be big enough for the thermometer to slip through.


The smaller side sits down into the cup, while the larger side sits on top of the cup.  This helps trap in the heat to get a more accurate measurement.


Now to figure the specific heat of a metal:

A large piece of metal measuring at least 30 grams is needed.  Two heavy nuts were used to get the amount of mass I needed for the experiment.  Measurements are below.

We need the metal heated to 100 ºC, boiling point. Once the metal was heated to 100 ºC, they were quickly removed and placed in the calorimeter, and lid closed.

The thermometer was gently swirled to get the heat distributed evenly.


Record keeping is essential in Chemistry. Always record all numbers.

  • Mass of the metal. 37grams
  • The calorimeter  was weighted to get the mass.  9grams
  • Water was added to the calorimeter and measured again.  124grams
  • The difference is the mass of the water.  115grams
  • Initial temperature of the water.  26 °C
  • Final temperature of the water.  28 °C
  • Initial temperature of metal.  100 °C

Now we can calculate the specific heat of the metal, using the following equations (these are explained in Exploring Creation With Chemistry :

  • q = m •  c •  ΔT
  • -q object = q water + q calorimeter

And here is a photo of my work.


The specific heat of the two nuts was .36 J/g°C

Each of my students had similar results.

Please do not ask me to explain my calculations.  I cannot do that over the internet.  🙂


4 responses to “I Built a Calorimeter and Determined the Specific Heat of a Metal

  1. U r awesomness extreme! Me however, think this may look simple, but it really bounces my brain to and fro in mass confusion! I love how u commit to learning this Chemistry stuff and so glad u r Rachel’s teacher!

  2. Love that board! =)

  3. That’s a nice rig, Michelle. Thanks for sharing how you made it! =)

  4. Oh, my gosh. I just spent the better part of 2 hours trying to understand the mathematical steps to this experiment. I think step 8 got me hung up the most. Ack!
    My son was the one who figured out how to move on…so we did…and it seems that maybe the book has some somewhat complicated steps to obtaining the specific heat of the metal.
    Orrr, maybe it’s just me.
    Either way, I think we did everything right and according to your board, it looks like we did.
    I also have Dr. Wile “on the line” to make sure we did it all right.

    Man, I love that guy!

    Thank you for taking the time to post this info. I’m going to bookmark your page for our future lessons with this Chemistry. 🙂

    Thanks again!!

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