Skip to main content

Thermos Design Challenge

Profile picture for user PocketLab
Submitted by PocketLab on Fri, 08/02/2019 - 13:33

In these two design challenges, students will design and construct their own thermos/storage device using craft materials and measure its effectiveness to insulate a liquid with a PocketLab temperature probe. These activities are aligned with two middle school NGSS standards and are a great open-ended, hands-on project for students to engage their critical thinking and engineering skills. 

Example student thermos design
Example of a student made thermos design using lots of aluminum foil!

NGSS Alignment: MS-PS1-6 and MS-PS3-3

While these standards are under different Disciplinary Core Ideas, (PS1B: Chemical reactions and PS1C: Definitions of energy), they are related by their Science and Engineering Practices (Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions) and their Cross-Cutting Concepts (Energy and Matter). In both, students are asked to design and construct a device and then measure how that device either releases, absorbs, or transfers thermal energy. In MS-PS1-6 the emphasis is on understanding how chemical reactions can release or store energy, while the emphasis in MS-PS3-3 centers around the conservation of energy and defining energy. There are two approaches to this design challenge, depending on which standard you would like to emphasize. Because the standards are closely related by their SEPs and Crosscutting Concepts, if your scope and sequence allow for it, combining these activities into one larger project could be a good approach. 

NGSS MS-PS1-6: Undertake a design project to construct, test, and modify a device that either releases or absorbs thermal energy by chemical processes.  

The standard is broken down into the three NGSS pillars below:
Science and Engineering Practices - Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
Disciplinary Core Ideas - PS1.B Chemical Reactions; ETS1.B Developing Possible Solutions; ETS1.C Optimizing the Design Solution
Crosscutting Concepts - Energy and Matter

NGSS MS-PS3-3 : Apply scientific principles to design, construct, and test a device that either minimizes or maximizes thermal energy transfer. 

The standard is broken down into the three NGSS pillars below: 
Science and Engineering Practices - Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
Disciplinary Core Ideas - PS3.A Definitions of Energy; PS.3 Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer; ETS1.A Defining and Delimiting an Engineering Problem; ETS1.B Developing Possible Solutions
Crosscutting Concepts - Energy and Matter

Using PocketLab Voyager or PocketLab Weather's temperature probe to collect authentic data, in real-time about the energy being released, absorbed, or transferred will be essential to the design process. Students can use the feedback provided from the data to inform their modifications and redesigns, an essential component to engineering best practices. The data collected from PocketLab will help them understand whether their device was successful and how that relates to concepts in thermal energy, conservation of energy, and chemical reactions. 

Thermos Design Challenge 1

Introduction

YETI is an American company founded in 2006 that is known for making expensive coolers, coffee mugs, thermoses, and water bottles. In 2018 the company went public and is estimated to be worth approximately $1.8 billion. Whether you want your coffee to stay hot all morning in a thermos or your sodas to stay cold in your cooler, YETI claims they are the brand to buy. But are they really doing anything beyond clever marketing? Do they have some secret technology that nobody else has, or are they just applying fundamental concepts in thermal energy and energy transfer? Can you build a product that works just as well as a YETI cooler or thermos? 

Challenge

Build a thermos or cooler that either keeps a warm beverage warm or keeps a cold beverage cold for 30 minutes. 

Constraints

  • If you build a thermos, the thermos must be able to fit in your hand without falling apart. 
  • If you build a cooler, it has to be able to hold at least two cans of soda. 
  • Your thermos or cooler should have a removable top.
  • In 30 minutes, the temperature of the liquid or the cans of soda shouldn't change by more than 5 degrees F. 

Materials

  • PocketLab Voyager or Weather with attachable temperature probe
  • Plastic cup for the core of the thermos
  • Carboard box for the core of the cooler
  • Craft supplies to add to thermos/cooler: tin foil, styrofoam, cotton balls, paper towels, tape, bubble wrap, construction paper, etc. 

Design Process

Before building your thermos or cooler, draw out a blueprint of your design with your group. Discuss the challenges that might come with your design. After testing your design, make modifications to your blueprint and re-construct your thermos or cooler if necessary. 

Data Collection

Plug your PocketLab temperature probe into your PocketLab Voyager or PocketLab Weather. Stick the wire of the temperature probe inside your thermos or cooler and leave the PocketLab itself outside, while still keeping it plugged in. Close the top of your thermos or cooler. Use the PocketLab temperature probe to measure how the temperature inside the thermos or cooler changes over time. Use the collected data to inform your modifications. 

Lab Report
Write up a lab report that explains the challenge and constraints, shows the design process you went through to come up with your final design, and summarizes your conclusions. 

Thermos Design Challenge 2

Vaccines have saved the lives of millions and are one of the greatest achievements in modern medicine. Still, many children don't have access to modern vaccines, resulting in deaths that could have been prevented. Vaccines are very sensitive and must be kept at precise temperatures so they don't go bad. In areas with poor infrastructure and unreliable access to electricity, it can be difficult to deliver vaccines because the temperatures can't be controlled. If a storage device can be built that can minimize the heat transferred to the vaccine without using electricity, millions will have better access to life-saving vaccines. Can you design a storage device that uses chemicals to keep a "vaccine" cold? 

Challenge

Design a storage device that minimizes the heat transferred to a "vaccine" using chemical reactions. 

Constraints

  • The storage device must be durable
  • The storage device must be able to keep a liquid cold at a temperature between 0 degrees C and 10 degrees C for 24 hours. 
  • The storage device cannot use electricity

Materials

  • PocketLab Voyager or Weather with attachable temperature probe
  • Individual apple sauce cup (to model vaccine)
  • Chemical Cold Packs
  • Materials for building a storage device: Cardboard, foam board, aluminum foil, construction paper, styrofoam, etc. 
  • Chemicals for extension: 

Design Process

Before building your storage device, draw out a blueprint of your design with your group. Discuss the challenges that might come with your design. After testing your design, make modifications to your blueprint and re-construct your storage device if necessary. 

Data Collection

Plug your PocketLab temperature probe into your PocketLab Voyager or PocketLab Weather. Cut a small hole in the top cover of the apple sauce container. Stick the wire of the temperature probe into the apple sauce and leave the PocketLab itself outside the, while still keeping it plugged in. Close the top of the container. Use the PocketLab temperature probe to measure how the temperature inside of the "vaccine" (apple sauce) changes. Use the collected data to inform your modifications. 

Lab Report
Write up a lab report that explains the challenge and constraints, shows the design process you went through to come up with your final design, and summarizes your conclusions. 

Extension

How exactly does the chemical cold pack work? It can be stored at room temperature for long periods of time, and then, when needed, can create a chemical reaction that can be used to keep things cold. Using proper safety guidelines from your teacher, can you create your own chemical reaction with the chemicals provided that would keep your vaccine cold? 

Example Data

Temperature data for two example thermos designs. Both designs used 2 instant cold packs and 1 small Ziploc bag of ice for refrigeration. Design 1 is graphed in blue, Design 2 in red, and the ambient room temperature in yellow.

thermos design 2
Design 1 is on the left and data is plotted in blue. Design 2 is on the right and plotted in red.
example data
Example experimental data over a 17 hour test.

 

Student working on Thermos