Thermal Energy: What Does Temperature Really Measure?

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Dec 13, 2010

Everything in the universe is made up of two basic components: matter and energy. Atoms and molecules make up matter. Particles of matter have kinetic energy, causing them to constantly vibrate or move. Because atoms and molecules are always moving, they generate heat energy. Temperature is a measurement of this heat. The temperature of a substance can be determined with a thermometer. In this activity you will see how increasing the movement of particles affects a material's temperature.


Small sealable plastic container and lid




  1. Place the bulb of a thermometer in the bottom of the plastic container. Pour enough sand into the container to completely cover the bulb.
  2. After about thirty seconds, read the temperature of the sand.
  3. Remove the thermometer and place the lid on the plastic container. Make sure the lid is sealed all the way around the container.
  4. Shake the container vigorously for 2.5 minutes.
  5. Remove the lid and submerge the thermometer bulb under the sand for about thirty seconds. Read the temperature of the sand.

Follow-Up Questions

  1. Did the temperature of the sand change after shaking? If so, how much?
  2. Did the particles of sand experience a change in kinetic energy? Explain your answer.


  1. Yes. Answers will vary as to amount of increase.
  2. Yes. The movement of the particles increased and the particles of sand bounced off of one another, resulting in an increase in kinetic energy and thus an increase in temperature.


Design an activity that proves or disproves that the vigor with which the sand is shaken influences the temperature of the sand.

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