University of Virginia
Physics Department

Heat Conduction

A Physical Science Activity

Student Activity


  • 19 cm long, stiff copper wire
  • Metal spoon
  • 2 small corks
  • 3 quarters
  • Matches
  • 600 mL beaker
  • Candle
  • 300 mL water
  • Wooden spoon
  • Hot plate
  • Plastic spoon



Part I:

  1. Cut the copper wire into 3 pieces: one piece 10 cm long and two pieces 4.5 cm long.
  2. Push the longer copper piece through the middle of one cork so that the cork is at its midpoint. BE VERY CAREFUL DOING THIS!!
  3. Push the smaller pieces into either end of the second cork, but not touching inside.
  4. Light the candle or burner.
  5. Each partner should hold the end of one wire in the flame (See diagram).
  6. Note the approximate time until the heat can be felt on the opposite end of the wires. As soon as the wire feels warm, remove it from the flame.
  7. Record which wire heated faster. wax and quarters

Part II:

  1. Press a small piece of warm candle wax from Part I into the handle of each of the three spoons (see diagram). Push the quarters into the wax so that they are attached to the spoons.
  2. Fill the beaker with 300 mL
  3. water and place the beaker on a hot plate.
  4. Place the three spoons in the water so that the quarters come out of the top of the beaker.
  5. Turn on the hot plate and allow the water to warm. Observe the quarters and note the order in which they fall from the spoons.


Data Sheet

 Part I:

1. In which wire was heat felt first? How much of a difference was there in the time it took the two wires to heat?



2. Explain the difference in the rate of heating of the two wires.



3. From your observations, do you think cork or copper is a better conductor? What properties make one material more conductive than the other?



Part II:

1. In what order did the quarters fall from the spoons? Explain this based on heat conductivity.



2. Identify and explain a kitchen item made of each plastic, metal and wood. Distinguish the uses of these items based on heat conductivity.



3. Explain energy transfer through heat conductivity in your own words.