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Thermal Energy Particle Motion Experiment

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Submitted by PocketLab on Sat, 02/09/2019 - 00:28

How does adding thermal energy effect the particle motion of a gas? 

Thermal Energy Examples

Matter makes up everything around us. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the chair we are sitting on, the cells in our body, it is all made up of matter. Matter can exist in different states: Take water for example, it can exist as a solid (an ice cube), liquid (water in a cup for drinking), and gas  (vapor rising from a boiling pot of water). In all three states, water is always made of the same molecules, H20, and the difference is the amount of thermal energy. Water is a good example of these three states because it can easily transition between them with relatively small changes in thermal energy. 

What is temperature

Temperature can be described as a measurement of the average kinetic energy in the matter in a substance. Kinetic energy is energy from motion. Matter that is moving around slowly has less kinetic energy. Matter that is moving around more quickly has greater kinetic energy. By measuring temperature, you can understand how much kinetic energy a substance has. 

Three types of thermal energy transfer:

The three types of thermal energy transfer are conduction, convection and radiation. Conduction involves direct contact of atoms, convection involves the movement of warm particles and radiation involves the movement of electromagnetic waves. In our experiment, we will use the radiation from a heat lamp.

Pressure of a gas:

In a sealed container, the pressure of the gas is the amount of force that the particles in the gas are pushing out on the container. 

NGSS Alignment

This activity aligns with NGSS MS-PS1-4: Develop a model that predicts and describes changes in particle motion, temperature, and state of pure substance when thermal energy is added or removed. 

For more details, see our article on how to teach NGSS Particle Motion and States of Matter. 

Objective - Develop a Model for Thermal Energy Transfer 

Students will be able to: 

  1. Develop a model that predicts how adding thermal energy will affect the motion of the matter in a substance.  
  2. Provide evidence for that model by collecting data on particle motion using PocketLab’s barometric pressure sensor. 
  3. Use the model to answer the investigation question and predict the relative kinetic energy in a substance when it is a solid, liquid, or gas. 

Thermal Energy Investigation Questions

Your investigation will answer the following questions: 

  1. In a sealed container, how are the temperature of a gas and the pressure of that gas related? 
  2. How does adding thermal energy affect the particle motion of a gas?


What do you predict the answers to the Investigation Questions will be? Explain using your own prior knowledge or information from the Background Information section. 


Thermal energy affecting particle motion - lab set up.


Before beginning the activity, make sure to wear safety goggles, and follow all safety precautions instructed by your teacher. The heat source (heat lamp or bunsen burner) can get very hot and cause injury or fires. 

Procedure: Plan Your Investigation

  • Connect your PocketLab to PocketLab mobile app or the PocketLab web app. 
  • Place the PocketLab in the canning jar and seal the jar. 

Your procedure will need a step-by-step guide of how your group will answer the Investigation Questions. 
In your procedure, be sure to answer the following questions: 

  • What type of PocketLab data do you need to collect to develop your model? (Remember you can view two graphs at the same time). 
  • What is the independent variable, what is the dependent variable, and what are the control variables in your investigation? 
  • How will the independent variable be changed and how will the dependent variable be measured? 
  • How will the Data Analysis tools in the PocketLab App help in analyzing the results of each trial? 
  • How many Runs and Trials are needed to answer the Investigation Question? 
  • How will you visualize your data for analysis (table, graph, etc.)? 

Data Analysis Tools 

To use the Data Analysis tools in the PocketLab Web App, on a recorded data trial, highlight the portion of the graph that you are interested in by clicking and dragging with your mouse. Next, click the Data Analysis button. You should see basic statistics on the portion of the graph you’re viewing as well as the ability to add curve fits. 

Data Analysis Part 1

Follow your procedure for analyzing the results of each Trial and Run then answer the following questions: 

  • What did the collected data tell you about the Investigation Question? 
  • How did use the Data Analysis Tools and your data visualization help you determine the answer to the above question? 

Data Analysis Part 2: Develop a Thermal Energy Transfer Model

Pick 5 temperature and pressure readings at different times during your trial. Draw a diagram that modes the particle motion of the gas in the container at each of those different points. Be sure your model illustrates how the kinetic energy of the particles is affecting by the different levels of thermal energy. 

Develop a Model Extension
Describe how you could predict the change in pressure in a gas (of normal atmosphere) if the temperature changes by x degrees. Use the data you collected in your investigation to create your model. 

HINT: To create your model, try graphing data from your pressure readings against data from your temperature readings. (You don’t need to graph every data point. Use data points that are evenly spaced out during the course of your trial). What do you notice? Can you fit a line to that data? What is the equation for that line? How would that help you Develop a Model? 


Were your hypotheses valid or invalid? How are the temperature of a gas and the pressure of that gas related? How does adding thermal energy affect the particle motion of a gas? 

How do your analysis of the collected data and the model you developed support your claim? 

Justification of Evidence
What scientific concepts or principles can explain the evidence? 

Further Discussion

Predict: How does the kinetic energy of the molecules in a substance relate to the state of that substance (solid, liquid, or gas)? Even though you only investigated the particle motion of a gas, how does the data you collected support your answer? 


Measuring change in pressure when thermal energy is added.
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