Design Challenge: Insulate a Cup

What You Need:

  • Science textbook or computer to research conductors and insulators
  • Paper and pencil to write design plans
  • A total of five 16-ounce plastic cups: two cups to design your insulated cup, one cup for a control, and two cups to hold water in the refrigerator
  • Up to three kinds of household materials (e.g., cotton balls, newspaper, bubble wrap, etc.)
  • Tap water
  • Refrigerator
  • Thermometer

What You Do:

  1. What is the difference between a conductor and an insulator? Use the internet or a science textbook to find out. Come up with examples of each.
  2. Fill up two of your cups with water and place them in the refrigerator. You will need cold water later to test your design!
  3. Your task is to design and modify a cup that will keep beverages colder for longer than a regular cup. Begin brainstorming the sorts of materials you want to use and why. There are constraints to your design:
    • You may use no more than two plastic 16-ounce cups in your design.
    • You may use no more than three additional household materials in your design. Try to choose inexpensive, recyclable materials.
  4. How might your cup be structured? Create several different design plans for your cup through drawings, diagrams, and/or detailed descriptions. Your design plan should be so thorough that if you sent it to a friend, they could create your cup perfectly without having to ask questions.
  5. Choose one of your design plans and construct your insulated cup.
  6. Time to put your cup to the test! Fill up your insulated cup and a regular 16-ounce plastic cup with the water from the cups in the refrigerator. Take the initial temperature of the water in each cup, and then leave the cups out at room temperature for 15 minutes. Take the water temperature again. Record all the temperature data on a sheet of paper. 
  7. Analyze your results. Which cup did the best job of keeping the water cold? Would you change anything about your cup if you were to redesign it? 
  8. See if you can improve the insulation of your cup to keep the water colder than it was in your original design. Modify your cup using a different design plan, and then repeat the experiment. Did this design perform better or worse than your first design? Why do you think that is?

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