Final Coffee Cup Experiment




For our final project, we created a coffee cup experiment that measured which common coffee cup insulates heat the best and for the longest amount of time.  We were curious about which material would insulate the best because, since millions of people in the world drink coffee or some other hot beverage daily, we wanted to see which material actually worked the best and was the most efficient.  The three most common materials used to carry around a hot beverage seem to be a plastic travel mug, a paper mug, and a styrofoam cup.  We decided that these were going to be the three containers that we would test.

Our theory, or hypothesis, before we ran the experiment was that the plastic travel mug would insulate the best because that is what they are designed to do.  These mugs are reusable, popular, and seem to hold heat for a fair amount of time.  We knew from the beginning that the disposable paper mug was not going to preform well, so we were mainly interested in the results from the plastic travel mug and the styrofoam cup.  Also, based on our own experiences purchasing hot drinks over time in each of these different materials, we thought that either the styrofoam cup or the travel mug would preform the best.

For this experiment, we didn’t need a lot of materials; We used: 1 NXT brick, 1 paper mug (with lid), 1 styrofoam cup (with lid), 1 plastic travel mug (with lid), 3 NXT temperature sensors, LabView computer software, hot water, and a permanent marker to mark where the water line was.  First, we set up the LabView and NXT brick with the adaptors to the computer.  Then, we marked a line on each cup to where we were going to pour the hot water in.  Next, we poured hot water into each cup up to the line that we marked.  Finally, the temperature probes go in, and the lids go on the containers.  Over the next 15 minutes we measured the temperature decrease of each container every 10 seconds.  This data was captured in the LabView program, and subsequently transferred to an Excel Document.  At the end of the experiment, all of the temperature data is collected and the water is disposed of and everything is put away.

Our results for this experiment were fairly on par with our hypothesis in the beginning.  The paper mug did in fact lose heat the fastest.  The starting temperature for the hot water was 158 Degrees Farenheit, and the paper mug’s temperature rapidly fell.  However, we were surprised to find out that the styrofoam cup insulated the heat better than the plastic travel mug.  Since travel mugs are designed to insulate, we were shocked to see that the inexpensive styrofoam cup hold out the longest.

Overall, we are hoping that the students performing this experiment will gather similar results that we did, that will benefit owners of coffee shops.  Since everyone is trying to make themselves and their businesses more efficient, these results will be important for them when it comes time for them to purchase cup materials.  We also hope that the students can see the relationship between this experiment and renewable energy.  Having an efficient product that can insulate heat energy best is important.  In addition to that, styrofoam is not good for the environment, while paper mugs can be recycled and travel mugs reused.  We hope that students can come to a conclusion on whether stores should invest in a cheap, efficient product that has a greater negative effect on the environment, or choose the less efficient product that can be reused/recycled.  In the end, the group of students did successfully gather results that were similar to ours, and the understood the purpose of the experiment.

   IMG_2549                                       IMG_2548                                   IMG_2547

Below is a copy of our handout that the other group received.



Purpose: To determine which container best insulates heat energy the longest.


Background: This particular experiment will help coffee shop owners decide which type of container will keep their product insulated for the longest amount of time for its customers. In the exhibition, hot water is placed into three types of coffee containers. The containers include a Styrofoam cup, plastic mug and paper cup. Thermometers collect the temperatures of the liquid in each cup over the course of a half hour. Keep in mind that the water started at an equal temperature and equal level in all three containers. Every ten seconds a temperature is recorded.  Efficiency and sustainability is very important these days, and learning which container best insulates will help that cause.  Using a container that best insulates heat will cut down on energy to re-heat the beverage, while also keeping your beverage warm.


Setup: Collect your materials: 1 paper mug (with lid), 1 styrofoam mug (with lid), 1 plastic travel mug (with lid), 1 NXT Brick with 3 adaptors cords, 3 NXT temperature probes, hot water, LabView software, and a permanent marker.

Mark a line on each container to where the hot water will be poured in.  Next, set up the NXT brick with the cables and sensors and open up the LabView software.  Then, pour in the hot water up to the marked line and put in the NXT temperature probes.  Finally put the lids on (as best as you can) to each container and begin to gather your results.

Data Collection: The NXT temperature probes will be constantly measuring the temperature of the hot water inside each cup.  This experiment will run for 30 minutes, with the sensors gathering temperature data every 10 seconds.  After you have all of your data in the LabView software, open up an Excel Document, and begin to record/graph your data.



Container At Starting Temperature (F) After 10 Seconds After 30


After 1 Minute After 5 Minutes After 10


After 20


After 30


Travel Mug:               
Styrofoam Cup:              
Paper Mug:              

Analysis: 1. Which container insulated the heat the longest?

2. Which container lost heat the fastest?

3. Which container material would you suggest to a store owner?  Does the material and it’s relationship to the environment affect your decision?


Group #4 Project Outline

Coffee Cup Experiment

For our group project, we’ll be testing how well three different cups filled with hot coffee (i.e. styrofoam, plastic, or paper) insulate heat.  We are interested in seeing which cup material will insulate the heat the best and the longest.  This experiment relates to energy efficiency because having a container that insulates heat best will reduce the amount of heat energy lost.  Since energy cannot be created or destroyed, the goal of our experiment will be to see which material can best save energy and retain the heat inside of the cup.  In addition, the results from our experiment will be greatly beneficial for coffee shop owners who are always looking for ways to improve their costs and efficiency.  However, our group is also interested in the environmental cost factor.  For instance, styrofoam cups are less expensive to produce than are plastic travel mugs, but they also have a greater negative effect on the environment than a reusable plastic travel mug.

Materials: 3 cups: 1 styrofoam, 1 plastic, and 1 paper;  hot water;  3 temperature probes;  timer.

Objective: We want to see which cup material will best insulate the heat from the hot water for the longest time.  We also want to know which cup material will have a less negative effect on the environment.

Hypothesis: We think that the styrofoam cup will retain the heat the longest.  However, we think that the styrofoam cup will have more of a negative effect on the environment than the recyclable paper cups or the reusable plastic mugs.




Group Project Brainstorming

This past week in class we met with our final project groups and began to brainstorm for our final project.  During this meeting, we basically just began to think of some ideas that we could realistically create for the class and started to look on some websites for experiments.  The websites that the professor provided were helpful, and in addition to that, we googled some more to explore all of our options.

First, we had the idea to order a toy car that runs solely on water power.  However, we realized that that would be potentially problematic when it came time to recording data and how it all comes back to renewable energy.  Even though the car is a perfect example of renewable energy (it runs on water power), we would have a difficult time having the rest of the class collect data on it.

Finally, one of our group members found an experiment online that measures which container retains heat from coffee the longest.  We all decided that this was a great idea and we will be able to relate it back to renewable energy.  Basically the experiment calls for having three different types of cups (i.e. styrofoam, glass, or paper) and filling them with a hot substance and constantly measuring the temperature of the contents.  In the end, we want to see which container is best able to retain the heat of the fluid inside.

We realized that we will have to create a program through LabView in order for the temperature probes to receive constant data.  From there, though, we just have to complete the experiment and perform it in front of the class.

Museum of Science Visit

This past week in class we all traveled to the Museum of Science (MOS) to see some examples of renewable/green energy for our final projects.  Being a huge fan of the MOS, I was really excited to check out this exhibit.

While we were there, we all looked at a display of how a wind turbine works.  I was really impressed by how the staff had two small gears behind plexiglass that you could turn and imitate the turbine working.  For example, I am the wind and I’m turning the blades of the turbine and we were able to see these gears move and how much energy would be created because of it.  Another really cool part of the exhibit was this touch-screen computer where you could look up on a map of Massachusetts where all of the wind turbines are, any coal factories, and basically where all renewable and non-renewable energy producers were located within the state.  It was interesting to see how close some of these places were to my home.

My favorite piece of the exhibit was this machine that had a gauge that went from green (good) to red (environmentally bad) whenever you put these magnetic disks on it.  We were able to place the disks in slots labeled “nuclear energy,” “solar energy,” and “coal powered energy,” etc., and this machine would move the gauge to either good or bad.  This machine was supposed to represent the environmental impacts that would ensue if these sources of energy were running Boston.  I really liked this one because we were able to see how good or bad each option was and how it would effect the city.

Towards the end, Tom Vales was showing a few of us the steam powered machine towards the back of the exhibit near the model trains and cars were.  He was explaining to us how much power this machine would have created and how dangerous they were back in the day.  I really enjoyed this talk with Tom because he is a treasure trove of knowledge and it was interesting to imagine this steam powered machine on at full blast.


Tom Vales Talk

Recently, one of Suffolk’s valuable staff members came to talk to us about different machines throughout history and how they were revolutionary then and now.  Having never seen a large majority of these machines, I thought that it was really cool to see things that revolutionized work hundreds of years ago, and some that were the beginnings of modern machines that we know and rely on today.

Seeing the Sterling Engine, which is about 200 years old, was really cool.  Being able to see a piece of equipment that was invented so long ago was really neat.  The Sterling Engine, we learned, is a hot air engine and moves hot and cold air in its workings.  With this machine there is very low friction, can be powered by solar power, and has an 80% efficiency rate!  I think it would be really cool to see one of these engines on a much larger scale.

One machine that I thought was really awesome was the Mandocino Motor.  This motor used magnetic levitation and therefore had almost no friction!  Seeing something levitate because of magnets was really cool, and it even spun because of the magnets.  Even though I’m not really sure where this piece would be functional in a real life setting, it was really cool to look at.

Lastly, my favorite of the equipment that Tom Vales brought down was the Tesla Coil and the Violet Ray Machines.  The big Tesla Coil reminded me of the electricity exhibit at the Museum of Science, and it was so cool seeing Tom hold a stick to the coil and electricity coming out.  Imagine running your house off of this free, wireless electricity?!  Something else I learned with this machine was the “Skin Effect.”  That is when the electricity just travels on the surface, and not through it.  The Skin Effect allowed Tom to touch the coil with the stick and not be shocked.  Also, seeing Tom use the UV lights with the coil was really cool.  I’ve never seen lights just light up like that on their own (i.e. the wireless electricity).

Overall, Tom Vales’ talk was really interesting and he showed us some really cool things.  I’ll definitely be looking into Tom’s help for our final project.



On March 11, 2011, the second largest nuclear meltdown in world history occurred on the east coast of Japan.  In 1986, the world was faced with it’s first nuclear disaster: Chernobyl in the Ukraine.  In the wake of this disaster, many world citizens thought that this was going to be the next Chernobyl: that the surrounding communities would be permanently evacuated, major health problems for years to come, mass loss of life (both human, animal, and plant), etc.  The Fukushima Daiichi disaster is only the second nuclear disaster to ever reach the International Nuclear Event Scale’s level 7.

What some people don’t realize is that this nuclear meltdown was not initially caused because of sloppy work or lack of precautions, but instead by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake that occurred in Japan, followed by a tsunami resulting from said earthquake.  Japan is located in “The Ring of Fire,” which is a horseshoe shaped ring of underwater/above ground volcanoes that is extremely active.  This “Ring of Fire” extends into the US too, sweeping up Hawaii with it.

So, on March 11, 2011, the earthquake occurred which caused damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility and that damage was later exacerbated by the massive tsunami that swept through Japan because of the jolt from the quake.  Japan’s Fukushima power plant was made up of 6 boiling water reactors.  With this level of power being pumped from the plant, they were able to produce 4.7 GWe’s of power!  This power plant was also created so that it could function with other companies.  Fukushima ran concurrently with General Electric, Tokyo Electric Power Company, and Boise.  Because of this conglomerate of power, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant placed on the world’s top 20 largest nuclear power plants.

Unfortunately, when the tsunami struck the Fukushima nuclear power plant, it did considerable damage to it’s reactor cooling systems.  This damage subsequently caused the nuclear meltdown.  However, before the tsunami hit, some of the nuclear reactors were already shut down for maintenance.  Unfortunately, with nuclear reactors, it takes days for them to cool off because of the heat decay rate of the fuel.  Without the cooling reactants, they will overheat thereby causing a meltdown.  Before the tsunami, the reactors were already running on the emergency electrical generators, but once the wave rushed in, those were ruined, and the meltdown began.

At the end of this nuclear disaster, many Japanese workers were killed due to the falling piping inside the factory during the earthquake and tsunami, and many more died later on due to radioactive exposure.  In addition to that, an area of about 12.5 mile evacuation zone surrounding the facility has been in order since the disaster and access is only gained with governmental supervision.  This evacuation is due to the fact that large amounts of radiation were released and poses environmental, health and even food and clean water concerns for the Japanese people who live in that area.


Nuclear Radiation: Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Plant and After Effects

Smoke rises from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex in this still image from video footage


Solar Cells

This past week in class, we were experimenting with solar panels and how different types of light (different colors) will effect how much power (V) was produced with different colored filters at different distances.  For our experiment, we tested with no light, no filter, a blue filter, a green filter, and an orange filter.  With each trial, we used the NXT battery, a USB plug, a flashlight, ruler (cm), the 3 color filters, and the solar panel.

Here is an example of how our experiment would happen:

Step 1: First, after everything was set up, we wanted to get a baseline reading from the solar panel with no light.  By doing this we can check if the panel is working and then compare the numbers to numbers that will come up when there is light hitting the solar panel.  Having no light hit the solar panel was as easy as flipping it upside down.

Step 2: For our first real run, we used no filter on the flashlight, and just allowed 100% light to hit the solar panel from 0cm away.  After those readings came in, we would move the light source away from the solar panel in increments.  We would then run the experiment again with the light 10cm away facing the solar panel, and measure how much voltage was being picked up from the solar panel.  After that, the light would be moved back to 30cm, and finally 40cm away.

Step 3: Once we got our baseline readings with no light and light with no filter, we moved on to our first colored filter.  Our group started with the blue filter, so we would hold the filter flush with the flashlight and hold that at 0cm from the solar panel.  After that reading, we would move it away to 10cm, 30cm, and 40cm keeping the blue filter flush with the flashlight.  Finally we would move onto the orange filter and the green filter.

At the end of our experiment, we found out that there is a positive correlation between the color of light and how far away it is from the solar panel.  The closer the light was to the solar panel, the more voltage was read.  In addition to that, the natural light and the orange filter gave off the most amounts of voltage.  In conclusion, there is definitely a correlation between light intensity when you factor in colors and distances.


* I apologize for the photo below and it’s lack of clarity.  There was no other way to upload a photo of the experiment, so the one from my cell phone has to do. *



Second Mass-Pulley Experiment

In this experiment, we re-tested how mass is effected when the power of a pulley is changed, and vice versa.  For all nine trails, the results are below:

Trail 1:  Mass: .25kg;    Battery Discharge: 69 mV;  Power: 50%;  Time: 1.206 seconds;  Acceleration: 3769 RPM/s;   Speed: 36.34605 RPM

Trial 2: Mass: .25kg;  Battery Discharge: 69mV;  Power: 50%;  Time:1.208 seconds; Acceleration: 30.38061 RPM/s;  Speed: 36.69978 RPM

Trial 3: Mass: .25kg;   Battery Discharge: 83 mV;  Power: 50%;  Time: 1.211 seconds;  Acceleration: 31.7077 RPM/s;   Speed: 38.39802 RPM

Trial 4: Mass; .09kg;   Battery Discharge: 125 mV;  Power: 50%;  Time: 1.209 seconds;  Acceleration: 37.51389 RPM/s;  Speed: 45.35429 RPM

Trail 5: Mass: .09kg;  Battery Discharge: 111 mV;  Power: 50%;  Time: 1.209 seconds;  Acceleration: 38.9962 RPM/s;  Speed: 47.1464 RPM

Trial 6: Mass: .09kg;  Battery Discharge: 28 mV;  Power: 50%;  Time: 1.206 seconds:  Acceleration: 39.41963 RPM/s;  Speed: 47.54008 RPM

Trial 7: Mass: .05kg;  Battery Discharge: 69 mV;  Power: 50%;  Time: 1.206 seconds;  Acceleration: 42.85739 RPM/s;  Speed: 51.68601 RPM

Trial 8: Mass: .05kg;  Battery Discharge: 125 mV;  Power: 50%;  Time: 1.21 seconds;  Acceleration: 42.233 RPM/s;  Speed: 51.10193 RPM

Trial 9: Mass: .05kg;  Battery Discharge: 194 mV;  Power: 50%;  Time: 1.206 seconds;  Acceleration: 42.7428 RPM/s;  Speed: 51.54782 RPM

(Chart and data from experiment:) batterydischarge1a-2

For this experiment, we began to understand the relationship between mass and battery discharge, and how that changes at different power levels and different speeds.  For this experiment, the power level stayed at 50% throughout the entire experiment, but the mass changed from .25kg, .09kg, and .05kg.  This change in mass will change the battery discharge because the battery will have to do more work in order to get the mass to the top of the pulley.  This means that there is a positive correlation between force, mass and velocity (F= MV).  As you can see from the data above, the battery discharge rate is lower when the mass is higher.  Overall, this experiment was a good learning experience for us to see the relationship between things, and how they can change the entire outcome of the data.


Solyndra Scandal


The 2011 Solyndra Scandal was a fast moving and abrupt process of lay-offs and bankruptcy.  Solyndra was a company founded in 2005 that was a major innovator in the production of thin-film solar cells, or solar panels.  Solyndra boasted about being at the forefront of technology with their lightweight, weather-savvy, aerodynamic solar panels that were supposed to be able to convert 12-15% of sunlight into electricity.  However, even Solyndra’s forward thinking couldn’t protect them from scandal.

Solyndra’s “cylinders, one inch in diameter, is made up of two tubes… the tubes use hermetic sealing technology to exclude moisture… When combined with a white roof… the company claimed that systems that employ the panels on a given rooftop could produce significantly more electricity in a given year.  It was thought that on a white roof, the panels can capture up to 20% more light than a black roof… The other advantage claimed by the company was that the panels did not have to move to track the sun… The Solyndra panels allow wind to blow through them.  According to the company, these factors enable the installation of PV on a broader range of rooftops without anchoring or ballast, which are inherently problematic.  Solyndra claimed that wind and snow loads are negligible and that its panels are lighter in weight per area.”  This goes to show Solyndra’s innovate technology in the effort for green energy.  Using cylindrical tubes that allow the wind to pass through makes more a much more efficient solar panel.  Also, since they are thinner panel, scientists noted that they work better packed closer together, which minimizes wasted space in the surrounding area.

However, on August 31, 2011, Solyndra officials announced that they were filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, and would subsequently be laying off all 1,100 employees, and ceasing production and manufacturing.  Looking back, according to the Washington Post,  in March of 2010, auditors began to raise concerns about Solyndra’s budgeting and whether or not they were going to be able to continue operating.  Very quickly, in December of 2010, executives realized that Solyndra was essentially out of money, and in January of 2011, the CEO’s speak with the Obama administration about how they are on the verge of bankruptcy.  The DOE, noticing Solyndra’s financial crisis, gives them $75 million towards refinancing the company in hopes of keeping them afloat.  However, in August of 2011, Solyndra shuts down despite of the government refinance money.

Because of this abrupt closure of the company, the FBI and the Department of the Treasury launched an investigation in September of 2011.  The FBI looked into Brian Harrison, CEO, and Chris Gronet, Solyndra’s founder to look for accounting fraud.  After that ordeal, a judge found both men not guilty of fraud, and Solyndra remains out of business.










Flashlight Experiment

This past week, we worked on a manual flashlight experiment, where we manually charged a flashlight.  The flashlight had a copper coil inside which conducted the electrical charge throughout the experiment.  There was also a magnet on the inside of the flashlight that would slide to opposite sides of the flashlight whenever we would shake it.  This movement of the battery helped create the charge, while the copper coil conducted the charge.  This was hooked up to the computer, so that we could accurately get our results.  Over the course of the three trials, these are the results below.

Baseline: 0 shakes;   sum squared: 0.292718

Even though we were not actually shaking the shake light, there are still some charges flowing through the light, so there is still a charge even though nothing is actively going on.

Trial 1: 44 shakes;   sum squared: 245.8468

Trail 2: 23 shakes;   sum squared: 100.1544

Trial 3: 16 shakes;   sum squared: 40.15929

Looking at the above data, it is easy to see that the more shakes, the greater the charge and the greater the sum squared (of all the numbers that the light generates and then square it) will be.  Below is a scatter plot chart of our results.

Copy of test2