Coffee Cup Calorimetry Lab

Instructor: Amanda Robb
In this lab, we'll be studying properties of heat. By looking at heat transfer between a metal and water we will be able to identify a property of the metal called specific heat.


Goal: To find the specific heat of a metal
Age: High school and up
Safety Concerns: This experiment uses a stove to boil water. Never touch hot objects with your hands.
Time: 2 hours

Water is essential to life on Earth. Many things make water important for supporting life, but one physical property is specific heat, the amount of heat it takes to change the temperature of 1 gram (g) of a substance by 1 degree Celsius (C). In short, if a substance has a high specific heat, it takes a lot of heat to change the temperature. Water has a high specific heat, 4.196 J/g degrees C, meaning it changes temperature very slowly. This is good for life on Earth because our oceans can absorb lots of radiation from the Sun without boiling.

Specific heat can be calculated using the equation:

Specific heat equation

A device called a calorimeter can measure the heat transferred between two substances. Using the data gathered through the calorimeter, you can calculate specific heat for a substance.

Before you get started, consider what happens when a hot object is placed in a cool bath of water. Where does the heat go?


  • Scale to measure mass
  • Two 6 ounce Styrofoam cups
  • Masking tape
  • One sample of metal, such as a coin or paperclip
  • Graduated cylinder
  • Water
  • Pot for heating water
  • Tongs
  • Oven mitts
  • Thermometer
  • 4'' square piece of carboard
  • Exacto knife
  • A stir to mix the water
  • Notebook to record your results


1. To build the calorimeter, take one styrofoam cup and place it inside the other. Next, use your Exacto knife to cut the cardboard into a circle that fits snuggle on top of the cup. Be careful not to cut it too small. It's important that the cup is sealed for the experiment.

2. Cut two small holes in the cardboard which will fit the stir and the thermometer and place them in the holes. Seal any gaps with masking tape.

3. Now, use your graduated cylinder to measure 150mL of water. Each mL is equal to one gram, so record the mass of water used as 150g in your notebook. Pour this into your calorimeter.

4. Take the mass of your metal using the scale and record this in your notebook.

5. Measure the initial temperature of water.

6. Boil a pot of water and add the metal. Wait 5 minutes for the metal to heat up. Since water boils at 100 degrees C, record the initial temperature of the metal in your notebook as 100 degrees C as well.

7. Now place the metal in the calorimeter and quickly close the cardboard. Wrap a layer of tape around the edge to secure the lid. Twist the stir to mix the water.

Experiment setup

8. When the temperature stops changing, the system is at equilibrium. Record this temperature as the final temperature in your notebook.


Make sure your calorimeter is sealed tightly. If heat escapes to the surroundings, you won't get an accurate final temperature, and thus an inaccurate specific heat. Also make sure you stir the water constantly, so all of the water is able to absorb the heat from the metal.

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