My Black Shirt Is A Heater!

4.1 based on 19 ratings

Updated on Nov 07, 2012


Environmental Sciences



Difficulty of Project


Cost (Approximate Cost of completing the project)

Less than $20

Safety Issues


Material Availability


Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project

24-36 hours

The objective of this science fair project idea is to research how your choice of clothing affect how hot or cool you feel during the day.

  • 5 pieces of colored construction paper (include white and black)
  • Thermometer
  • Tape
  • Writing paper and utensil
  • Cardboard

The amount of thermal energy (heat) produced by various items depends on its color. Black items absorb all wavelengths of visible light, transforming them to heat, while white items reflect all wavelengths of visible light and remain cooler. Similarly, darker colors will absorb more light (thus producing more heat) than their lighter colored counterparts.

Research Questions
  1. Does your choice of clothing affect how hot or cool you feel during the day? Do you feel a difference when you wear a black or white shirt in the sun?
  2. Do you expect different colors to produce different amounts of heat when left in the sun? If yes, which colors do you think will be warmer and why? Which colors do you think will be cooler? Why?
  3. Given the results of your study, what objects do you think would be best as darker colors? What objects would be best as lighter colors?
Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research
Thermal energy
Wavelengths of light/spectrum

  1. Select five pieces of colored construction paper (including white and black). Fold each piece in half and tape the 8.5 inch side shut.
  2. Write down your best guess at whether there will be a temperature difference between colors during your experiment and note which color will be the hottest or coolest.
  3. Select one color to test on Day 1. Carry this piece of paper outside and place it on the piece of cardboard. Slide the thermometer inside the folder paper. (You may need to tape the paper to the cardboard on a windy day and secure the cardboard with rocks.)
  4. Leave the paper in the sun for one hour.
  5. At the end of the hour record the temperature in a notebook or on a piece of paper.
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 on following days at the same time until you have tested all pieces of paper.
  7. ALTERNATIVE: If you have more than one thermometer you can test multiple pieces of paper at once. If you are using multiple thermometers be sure to do a test run to calibrate the thermometers (test for consistency). For example, you could place all thermometers in a glass of water for the same amount of time. Then, if you know that one thermometer read 0.5 degrees higher than the other you can adjust accordingly.
  8. Examine your results and determine if different colors reacted differently to the sun. If you found a difference, note the colors creating the highest and lowest temperatures. Scan your environment to see where you find those colors (picnic tables, roof tops, playgrounds, cars, ground coverings, clothes). The next time you are chilly, select a shirt that creates a warmer temperature and see if you notice a difference!

Alexa Bach McElrone is an independent consultant based in the San Francisco Bay area. Employed as a sustainability advisor, she works at the nexus of people, profit, and our planet's natural resources to build stronger communities and empower the next generation.

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