Thermal Energy Put to Work

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In this activity, learners determine whether thermal energy can be used for work. Learners put a balloon on a bottle and observe what happens when they put the bottle in hot water and then in ice water. Learners are then instructed to design a device to convert the expansion/contraction of the balloon into usable work, such as lifting a rock.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Plastic 1-liter bottle
  • Large balloon
  • Bowl of hot (not boiling) water
  • Bowl of ice water
  • Small rock
  • Access to a freezer


  • Physical Sciences
    • Heat and Thermodynamics
      • Heat and Temperature
      • Heat Transfer
      • Thermodynamics and Entropy
    • Energy
      • Potential and Kinetic Energy
      • Work and Machines
    • Motion and Forces
      • Machines


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All rights reserved, The NEED Project,