02 Environmental Research

This event is limited to the first 18 entries

2019 Topic: Energy


There is often a need to keep objects at a temperature above or below that of the environment. On a cold day, one might carry around a thermos of a hot drink while wearing a warm jacket. On a hot day at the beach, one would keep the cold drinks in a cooler. Heat flow is inevitable when objects have different temperatures and we use many ways to minimize that heat flow.



Part 1 -  Conduct literature research to address the following:

  • The two major processes leading to heat transfer between bodies that are at different temperatures and approaches that are used to minimize heat transfer.
  • How is the insulating capability of materials expressed and measured?
  • Examples of insulating materials used in various applications and the requirements imposed on those insulating materials. Tradeoffs between efficiency, price, and environmental friendliness.
  • Instances when inadequate insulation caused economic losses or environmental consequences. Disasters resulting from failed insulation. Instances when normal manufacturing or use of insulating materials resulted in environmental or health hazards.
  • The most/least efficient and most/least expensive insulating materials.
  • Can thermal insulation be made of recycled materials?

Part 2 -  Conduct original research

  • Identify several common materials that can be recycled to make thermal insulation. Using those materials, design and construct thermal insulation for a small container, such as a glass bottle or a metal jug.
  • Come up with a method for characterizing the insulation efficiency based on heat loss. Identify a chemical reaction that can be used to heat up the container reproducibly to a predetermined temperature for heat loss experiments. Perform calculations to predict the temperature increase caused by the reaction.
  • Perform measurements on different insulators (different materials or different types of processing of same material). Conduct a scientific investigation to explore how changes in material or processing result in different insulating properties.
  • Relate the measured insulating properties to the properties/design of the insulator.

Part 3 - Report of Student Understanding and Research Findings

A research paper that includes information addressing the following and demonstrates understandings and information from the literature research above. This should include the following:

  • Describe the principles used to develop materials that minimize heat transfer.
  • Make an argument for or against making insulation from recycled materials as a sustainable solution.
  • Discuss the limitations of recycled thermal insulation and relate those limitations to its chemical makeup.
  • All reference material should be properly cited and citations should have credibility.

Event Day

Teams will make a 3-minute presentation via PowerPoint/ Slides or poster. Presentations will be scheduled for the morning of the Chemistry Olympics (6 minutes maximum: 3 minutes prepared presentation + 3 minutes Q&A). This presentation should focus solely on the results obtained in Part 2 and should highlight the students' understanding of heat transfer and insulating material properties, and how the latter depends on the insulating material structure and chemical composition. Students must relate their understanding of energy, heat transfer, and insulating materials to their experimental findings. Specific laboratory data collected should be presented to the judges in a graphical/pictorial manner, when appropriate.  Conclusions from experimentation should be clearly supported by the data provided.



Learn about the requirements concerning Primary Sources, formatting and citations for your research paper: Research Guidelines and Requirements

The Environmental Research Paper must be received by the Event Coordinator of the NJCO by the deadline indicated in: Requirement Overview.


Written report 40% total

  • Accuracy of technical component(s).
  • Depth and accuracy of thermal transfer characterization.
  • Demonstration of understanding how chemical composition and material structure results in varying thermal properties of insulator.
  • Support of argument for or against recycled thermal insulators.  The argument must include evidentiary statements and be grounded in good reasoning.
  • Quality of references and appropriate citations.

Experiment and Results 20% total

  • Evidence of good scientific method
  • Clear experimental procedure
  • Graphical analysis of results

Presentation, 40% total

  • Technical knowledge of subject
  • Presentation quality
  • Answers to questions