Science project

Specific Heat of Water vs. Specific Heat of Sand


How can the specific heats of different substances be observed and measured?


  • Desk lamp
  • Box
  • Box cutter or scissors
  • 2 non-paper cups
  • 2 thermometers
  • Sand
  • Water


  1. Have a grown-up help you cut off one side of the box. You want to keep the heat energy of lamp enclosed in the area of your experiment as much as possible.
  2. Fill one of the cups with sand and the other with water at room temperature.
  3. Place the cups side by side in the bottom of the box.
  4. Place the lamp behind the box and tilt the head so that when you turn it on, the light will shine down towards the cups. The bulb should be an equal distance away from each cup. Why is this important?
  5. Do not turn your lamp on yet.
  6. Place a thermometer about one inch into the sand. Place a second thermometer about one inch into the water.
  7. Record the initial temperatures of the sand and water in a data table similar to the following.

Time in Minutes

Temperature Water

Temperature Sand


































  1. Turn on the light.
  2. Record the temperature of both the sand and water every two minutes for at least 20 minutes. Be careful that the cups don’t melt under the light bulb. If the temperatures don’t seem like they’re changing very much, try moving the light closer to the cups or using a light bulb of higher wattage. 


The sand will get warmer faster than the water.


It was important to make sure that the light was the same distance from the sand and water because you wanted each cup to receive the same amount of energy from the light. This is a controlled experiment, and the only variable you want to test is type of substance in the cup. Part of the reason the sand got hotter faster is because the specific heat of sand is lower than the specific heat of water. That’s why it took less light energy to change its temperature.

Going Further

What other properties determine how fast a substance heats up? Try the same experiment with light and dark rock, or different types of liquids. You might also do the experiment in reverse, measuring how different substances cool over time.

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