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Investigate the 'Death' of an Orange: How is Rate of Heat Loss Based on the Surrounding Temperature?

Abstract

Imagine that you are a detective investigating a murder. You have a body that was found in a swimming pool, and someone reported hearing an argument near the pool at 10:00 PM the night before. Your first question might be "Was this person killed around 10:00 PM last night, or at some other time?" One way to answer this question is to measure the internal temperature of the body. The longer ago the killing occurred, the colder the body. But can you assign a specific time of death to a specific temperature? In this science fair project, you will measure the rate of heat loss from an orange and see how it depends on the temperature of the surroundings.

Summary

Areas of Science
Difficulty
 
Time Required
Short (2-5 days)
Prerequisites
None
Material Availability
Readily available
Cost
Very Low (under $20)
Safety
No issues
Credits

David B. Whyte, PhD, Science Buddies

  • StyrofoamTM is a registered trademark of The Dow Chemical Company.

Objective

Measure the rate of heat loss from an orange (representing a body) and see how it depends on the temperature of the surroundings.

Introduction

Say you are investigating a murder and want to know when the victim was killed. If the body is cold, you can guess that the murder did not happen very recently. But can you be more precise in order to catch the killer? First, you will want to measure the internal temperature of the body, its core temperature. Once you have the core temperature, what else do you need to know to determine when the murder took place? Well, you will want to know what the temperature of the surroundings was in the recent past. If the body was found in the morning, you will want to know what the temperature in the area was overnight, for example. You will also want to determine if the body was insulated, say, by heavy clothing. More clothing will obviously slow the rate of heat loss. Suppose the body was found in a swimming pool or in a lake. How would this affect the rate of heat loss? These are all questions that you can model, without having to work with actual victims. In this case, you will use an orange as a model for a human body. One concept that is particularly important for this science fair project is rate of change. See Equation 1.



Equation 1:

Rate of change = Change in temperature (°C)/time (hours)

If the temperature of an object decreases by 10°Celsius (C) in 1 hour (h), the rate of change of the temperature is -10°C/h—the negative sign indicates that the temperature is going down. If the temperature of an object decreases by 10°C in 10 h, the rate of change is -1°C/h (10 divided by 10 is 1, and the answer is -1 because again, the temperature is going down). The change in temperature is the same (10°C) in both cases, but one rate is 10 times greater than the other. The time can be calculated in seconds, minutes, days, or in any other time unit.

In this forensics science fair project, you will investigate the "time of death" of an orange. The orange will be warmed to near human core body temperature (100°F) and allowed to cool for various amounts of time in surroundings of various temperatures. You will make a graph that shows how the temperature changes over time. You can also investigate how factors such as clothing and size affect heat loss.

Terms and Concepts

Questions

Bibliography

Materials and Equipment

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Experimental Procedure

Cooling the Orange in Room-Temperature Water

  1. Add room-temperature water to the cooler, so that there are about 3 inches of water on the bottom.
  2. Record the water temperature in your lab notebook.
  3. Fill the pot three-fourths full with water.
  4. Add one orange to the water in the pot.
  5. Heat the water slowly until it is 100°F (38°C).
  6. Keep the temperature at 100°F for 30 minutes.
  7. Remove the orange from the water with a pair of tongs. Be careful, but quick, so as to avoid dropping the orange and splashing hot water onto yourself.
  8. Immediately insert a thermometer into the orange. Be sure to place the tip of the thermometer into the center of the orange.
  9. Record the temperature of the orange and the time. Call this Time zero in your lab notebook.
  10. Place the orange in the room-temperature water in the Styrofoam cooler and start the timer.
  11. Record the temperature every 2 minutes, until the temperature is 80°F (~27°C).
  12. Repeat steps 1–11 two times, with fresh oranges, water, and make sure your pot has cooled to room temperature.

Cooling the Orange in Ice-cold Water

  1. Make an ice bath, as follows:
    1. Empty the room-temperature water from the previous section out of the cooler.
    2. Add ice to the cooler. Make a layer of ice about 1 inch thick.
    3. Add 1 quart of water to the ice.
    4. Add ice, as needed, to the ice water to keep it "icy."
  2. Fill the pot three-fourths full with water.
  3. Add one orange to the water in the pot.
  4. Heat the water slowly until it is 100°F (38°C).
  5. Keep the temperature at 100°F for 30 minutes.
  6. Remove the orange from the water with a pair of tongs. Be careful, but quick, so as to avoid dropping the orange and splashing hot water onto yourself.
  7. Immediately insert a thermometer into the orange. Be sure to place the tip of the thermometer into the center of the orange.
  8. Record the temperature of the orange and the time. Call this Time zero in your lab notebook.
  9. Place the orange in the Styrofoam cooler with ice water and start the timer.
  10. Record the temperature every 2 minutes, until the temperature is 80°F (~27°C).
  11. Repeat steps 1–10 two times, with new oranges, ice, and water. And again, make sure your pot has cooled to room temperature.

Analyzing the Results

  1. Average the temperatures of the oranges that were cooled at room temperature for each time: 0 minutes, 2 minutes, 4 minutes, etc.
  2. Average the temperatures of the oranges that were cooled in the ice bath for each time: 0 minutes, 2 minutes, 4 minutes, etc.
  3. Graph the time, in minutes, on the x-axis and the temperature, in °F or °C, on the y-axis.
  4. Looking at the graphs, when do you see the greatest rate of change: when you first add the oranges to the water (when there was the greatest temperature difference), or later?
  5. If you found a "dead" orange in a pool of room-temperature water, and the orange had a core temperature of 85°F, how long had it been "deceased"?
  6. Calculate the rate of change in the temperature of the oranges as they cooled from 90°F to 80° F.
    1. Look at the graphs of temperature vs. time.
    2. Determine how long it took for the oranges in room-temperature water to cool from 90°F to 80°F.
    3. Determine how long it took for the oranges in ice water to cool from 90°F to 80°F.
    4. Divide 10°F (the temperature change) by the times (in minutes) to get the rates.
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Variations

  • Try larger or smaller oranges. How does the rate of change in the temperature vary with the diameter of the orange?
  • Determine the rate of cooling (in air, not in water) when the orange is placed on a piece of Styrofoam vs. sitting on a metal surface.
  • "Dress" the orange; for example, with duct tape. How does this affect heat loss?
  • Cool the oranges at other temperatures, such as 40°F, 50°F, and 60°F. Add ice or cold water to keep the temperature of the water bath constant. How does the rate of change of the temperature vary with the temperature difference?

Careers

If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:

Career Profile
Guilty or not guilty? The fate of the accused in court lies with the evidence gathered at the crime scene. The job of the forensic science technician is to gather evidence and use scientific principles and techniques to make sense of it. It can be a grueling and graphic job, but very rewarding. If you like the idea of using science to help deliver justice, then you should investigate this career. Read more

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MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Investigate the 'Death' of an Orange: How is Rate of Heat Loss Based on the Surrounding Temperature?" Science Buddies, 28 Jan. 2022, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Phys_p079/physics/forensics-time-of-death. Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2022, January 28). Investigate the 'Death' of an Orange: How is Rate of Heat Loss Based on the Surrounding Temperature? Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Phys_p079/physics/forensics-time-of-death


Last edit date: 2022-01-28
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