Exploring Heat Energy with an Infrared Camera

At this year’s Massachusetts Association of Science Teachers or “MAST” Conference I shared the Science Center’s FLIR One infrared camera purchased last year through Burlington Education Foundation grant funds. Over just the past month teachers at the Marshall Simonds Middle School and Burlington High School have borrowed the tools to enhance their heat investigations. Sixth grade teachers at Marshall Simonds pointed their camera at their convection current demonstration boxes while a Burlington High physics teacher put the camera to work to more accurately collect temperature data of “mystery matter” during a specific heat lab investigation.

During the hour orientation and Q&A we pointed the camera at our audience of science educators before exploring how kinetic energy transfers into heat energy through friction. We also pointed the camera at a classic endothermic reaction between water and alka-seltzer tablets where the crowd observed the absorption of heat energy from the water, observing the temperature decrease without opening the system and letting out the gas created as using a thermometer would inevitably lead to.

The dozen or so attendees were definitely amused and impressed by the cameras ability to engage and shed light on an otherwise invisible form of energy!  After “playing” around with some ice and investigating how well the camera worked through glass and other transparent materials, I wrapped up the presentation by sharing some other possible investigations the camera would enhance by better visualizing the heat energy flow and model its transfer. These investigations included:

  • Investigate what kind of materials absorb the sun’s energy best.
  • Unequal temperature differences along coastlines and local wind implications.
  • Identifying temperatures of “unknown” materials to calculate specific heat.
  • Observational differences between warm / cold blooded creatures.
  • Visualization of kinetic energy transfer to heat energy through friction.
  • Observe temperature changes in exo/endothermic reactions in real time.

Later I connected with David Kujawski who shared with me another fabulous infrared technology resource through the Concord Consortium. He also suggested a conduction experiment where students place their fingers on different strips of materials to see how quickly the temperature dissapated through the materials (or not!) It is a great investigation I can’t wait to try!

If you have additional ways you might use an infrared camera like this I’d love to hear from you! Consider sharing your thoughts in the comments section below.

On a final note, a hat tip to the MAST Executive Board for putting together a great conference. Learn more about the association and their spring professional development opportunities by visiting massscienceteach.org. Also, you can check out the Burlington Science Center’s blog for more pictures from the infrared camera purchased with the help of the Burlington Education Foundation.

About Sean Musselman

Teacher Dad and Burlington MA Schools K-5 Science and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator. NSTA Professional Development facilitator and author of "Think Like a Scientist: Investigating Weather and Climate" NSTA Kids ebook.
This entry was posted in 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, Digital Tools, Professional Development and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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