Mechanical Equivalent of Heat (2010)


Mechanical Equivalent of Heat
Paul Fischer
Portfolio: Labs


One of my favorite parts of science is the history behind it. Some laws of the universe that scientists in the past believed in have been disproven. Others, however, were so well crafted that they remain in place for hundreds of years. In this lab, we learn how with limited technology, James Joule was able to lay down some of the most fundamental groundwork for modern physics.

The lab is rather simple, and though we had a rather high percentage of error (nearly 40%), we could see how Joule was able to use known relationships between heat and work to create a quantifiable formula (4.186J=1Calorie). This discovery allowed scientists to find specific heats for nearly every substance. That is vital to many things, from engine parts to calculations for electricity. 
As much as showing us how Joule’s work can be used, this lab showed that some science can withstand the test of time and be important even centuries later. It also exemplified the relationship between work (turning the tube filled with steel shot) and a real temperature change, and had us quantify that using Joule’s work.

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