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Unknown Metal Lab

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Unknown Metal Lab

Purpose: To find the specific heat of an unknown metal.


  • Water
  • Hot plate
  • Metal tongs
  • Temperature Probe
  • Scale
  • Calorimeter
  • Glass cup
  • Metal Substance


First, weight the metal substance and record it’s mass. Then weigh the cup, first without water and then with the room temperature water. This data will be used later in the calculations. Next, add water into glass cup and and calorimeter. Place the glass cup on the hot plate. Leave the water on hot plate until boiling. Measure temperature and record it. Next, place the metal substance in the boiling water. The water will probably stop boiling. Wait until the water begins boiling again and reaches the same temperature as it was before the metal object was placed in the water.

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Metal in boiling water

Water in calorimeter


Temperature (K)




Uncertainty: +/- .5

Data Analysis:

The specific heat formula is as follows:

        c = Q/(m*(change)T)

        c: is the specific heat. Units: J/(kg*K)

        Q: is the heat. Units: J

        (change)T: is the Change in temperature. Units: K

To solve for the specific heat, this equation must be set equal to Q, as shown below:

        Q = c*m*(change)T

Next, the heat of the metal and the heat of the water are set equal

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Another source of uncertainty is through the assumption that no heat was lost to either the cup or air. This would have skewed the data in the calculations and create a lower specific heat.

One way to improve this experiment would be to heat up the metal for a longer period of time. This would ensure that the metal is the exact temperature as the boiling water, thus making the temperature measurement more accurate. Another way to improve this would be to constantly measure the temperature of the water after the hot metal is placed in the calorimeter. This would allow for the student to watch the temperature and more accurately determine when it reaches thermal equilibrium. Furthermore, the loss of heat to the cup or air could be taken into account, creating a more accurate specific heat.

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This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our International Baccalaureate Physics section.

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