Expansion of Solids

Lab: 
PHY 1151

Thermal expansion is the tendency of matter to change in volume in response to a change in temperature. An object's temperature, on the Kelvin [K] scale, is proportional the object's internal kinetic energy. When heat energy (measured in Joules [J]) is transferred to the object, its constituent particles begin moving faster, thus maintaining a greater average separation and therefore expanding. Materials which contract with increasing temperature are uncommon.

If the object undergoing expansion has a predominant dimension (for example, a long metal rod), it is helpful to only observe expansion in that dimension. This is called linear thermal expansion. Each material has its own coefficient of linear thermal expansion (α). This coefficient indicates what percentage of its original length an object will expand per degree Celsius. The coefficient is found by dividing the percent change in length by the change in temperature (ΔT). Percent change in length is equal to the change in length (ΔL) divided by the original length (L0).

ΔL = L0α(ΔT) (1)

WARNING: THIS LAB USES BOILING WATER AND STEAM! PLEASE BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN HANDLING THE STEAM POT OR THE HOT METAL!

thermal expansion apparatus

Materials

  • Pasco thermal expansion apparatus
  • Metal rods
  • Steam generator, cap, and rubber hose
  • Watch glass
  • Water
  • Paper towels
  • Digital multimeter
  • Thermistor or Digital Thermometer

Objectives

  1. To discover how heat affects the dimensions of different metals.
  2. Review how to use a micrometer.
  3. To learn how determine temperature using a thermistor.
  4. To practice controlling variables in order to determine a physical property of a material.

Activities

Activity 1: Measuring the coefficient of linear thermal expansion

As steam is sent through a metal pipe, the pipe expands. This expansion is very small, and must be measured using a metric dial. See this detailed apparatus description for help using the dial. When the metal rod expands, it will push against the micrometer needle. Examine the metric dial to determine the units and precision. In order to get three significant figures in your measurement of ΔL, you will need to estimate the reading to the nearest fifth of a division.

Instead of the thermistor, we will use an Extech EasyView digital thermometer placed into the end of the metal sample to measure temperature. Here is a link to the manufacturer's user manual. Use this user manual (the section titled "Accuracy" in the Specifications table) to determine the uncertainties in your temperature measurements.

One more thing: Although the entire metal sample is expanding you are only measuring the expansion that takes place between the two clips. One clip is anchored in the mounting bracket, and the other presses against the micrometer needle. Therefore when determining L0, you are not concerned with the total length of the rod, just the effective length between the clips.

The tube from the steam pot attaches to one end of the metal rod, and a watch glass should be placed at the other end to catch the condensing steam. When the steam from the steam pot enters the rod, it will expand. You will need to watch carefully for maximum temperature and expansion.

Calculate the coefficient of linear thermal expansion. Propagate your error and display the uncertainty in your final result.

Locate a table of linear thermal expansion coefficients online or in your textbook and compare your experimental results to the accepted value using percent error. Be sure to cite your reference in your notebook!

Activity 2: Repeating for a different material

Allow the apparatus to cool sufficiently and repeat the experiment on one other metal sample.

Activity 3: Analysis of error

Use the following questions to develop a thorough analysis of error.

  1. Measurements of three different quantities were made to determine the coefficient of linear expansion, namely the original length, the change in length, and the change in temperature. Each measurement has its own associated uncertainty, which should be recorded in your data section. For each of your rods, which of these measurements contributes the greatest percent uncertainty in the final result? (Hint: Which has the greatest fractional error?) Does this make sense? Explain your reasoning.
  2. Is uncertainty of measurement alone enough to explain the percent error in your results? If not, identify the sources of experimental error that could explain the difference between your values and the accepted values.

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