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Physics SL Laboratory
Specific Heat Capasity of Water
Zülâl Bingöl


Research Question: What is the specific heat capacity of tab water?

Aim: The aim of this experiment is to find the specific heat capacity of tab
water. For doing this, the temperature changes will be measured during certain periods of time.


Independent Variable: Specific Heat Capacity of Water

Dependent Variable: Change in Temperature

Background Information

Specific heat capacity is defined as “the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1kg
of material by 1°C.” (Hamper, p.72). This amount of energy depends on the substance; every
substance has different heat capacity. For instance, the specific heat capacity of iron is different than
water. For finding the specific heat capacity of a substance, generally calorimeter is used. Basically,
the substance is put into the calorimeter. The substance is heated with electrical heater. The
temperature of the substance is measured gradually. In a certain amount of time, the results are
recorded and the specific heat capacity is calculated according to the following equation;

𝑄 = 𝑚. 𝑐. ∆𝑇

where Q: amount of energy, m: mass, c: specific heat capacity, ∆T: change in temperature.


The specific heat capacity of water is 4.186 joule/gram °C (Nave, 2012). This value is valid for pure
water, but in this experiment tap water will be used instead of fresh water. Since tap water contains
impurities, the specific heat capacity is expected to be higher than the theoretical value.



Electrical Heater (1000 W) Stopwatch


Tap water

In this experiment, the specific heat capacity of water is being calculated by using a heater. For doing
this, the temperature changes of water during 30 seconds, 1 minute, 1 and a half minute, 2 minutes
were measured.

1) 0.5 liters of tap water was measured and poured into the heater. While measuring the water
volume, the readings were taken at the meniscus level in order to avoid parallax error.
2) Thermometer was put into the water. The water was mixed with the help of the thermometer,
in order to homogenous for temperature as much as possible.
3) In initial temperature of the water was measured and recorded. While measuring, I have
waited for a while, for the thermometer have a stable value.
4) During all of the measurements throughout the experiment, the thermometer was kept in the
middle of the water; not near to the bottom, not near to the surface. This provided reliable
results in temperature measurements.
5) The thermometer was kept inside the water after measuring the initial temperature.
6) The heater was turned on; at the same time the stopwatch was started.
7) As soon as 30 seconds passed, the temperature was recorded. The heater was turned off.
8) The water was poured into the sink. Cold water was poured down the heater in order to cool
the heater. This prevented the heat transfer from the heater to water before the considered
9) The previous steps were repeated for 1 minute, 1 and a half minute and 2 minutes.


Data Collection and Presentation

After each step of the experiment, the initial and final temperatures of the water were recorded. There
are some uncertainties which affect this experiment. The smallest degree that the thermometer could
measure was 1°C; so the uncertainty is ±1.0 °C. In using stopwatch, the human reaction time matters
while stopping the watch. The human reaction time is accepted to be approximately 0.2 seconds; so
the uncertainty for duration is ±0.2 seconds. By considering these, here is the table of raw data;

Table 1: Raw Data for Initial and Final Temperatures

Duration / s (±0.2 s) Initial Temperature /°C (±1.0 °C) Final Temperature /°C (±1.0 °C)
30.2 24.0 36.0
60.4 25.0 48.0
90.3 18.0 56.0
120.3 14.0 60.0

Data Processing and Presentation

For finding the specific heat capacity of water, the formula 𝑄 = 𝑚. 𝑐. ∆𝑇 will be used. For this
formula, the change in temperature should be calculated and used. So, the following formula gives the
processed data;

Table 2: Processed Data for Temperature Change

Duration /s (±0.2 s) Temperature Change (∆T) (±1.0 °C)

30.2 12.0
60.4 23.0
90.3 38.0
120.3 46.0

By using the temperature changes and the other data, the specific heat capacity of the water can be
calculated. The equation is as follows;

𝑄 = 𝑚. 𝑐. ∆𝑇

In this formula, Q represents the energy transferred to the system. Here are the steps to find the energy
for the first sample;

𝑒𝑛𝑒𝑟𝑔𝑦 = 𝑝𝑜𝑤𝑒𝑟. 𝑡𝑖𝑚𝑒

In this case, the power is 1000 W.

𝑒𝑛𝑒𝑟𝑔𝑦 = 1000𝑊. 30.2 𝑠 = 30200 𝐽

By using these steps, the total energy of the each sample was calculated. The following table illustrates
the amount of energies in each sample.

Table 3: Total Amount of Energy Given

Temperature Change (∆T) (±1.0 °C) Energy (J)

12.0 30200
23.0 60400
38.0 90300
46.0 120300

Now that all the data were collected, the specific heat capacity of water can be calculated. In the
formula, the mass should be in grams, so 0.5 liters is equal to 500 grams. For the first sample;

𝑚. ∆𝑇

30200 𝐽
𝑐= = 5.03 Joule/gram °C
500𝑔 12.0

By using the same method, the specific heat capacity was calculated in all of the samples. The results
were illustrated in the following graph;

Table 4: Specific Heat Capacities in Different Samples and the Mean Value

Temperature Change (∆T) (±1.0 °C) Specific Heat Capacity (joule/gram °C)
12.0 5.03
23.0 5.25
38.0 4.75
46.0 5.38
Mean 5.10


The results were taken and the specific heat capacity of water due to each of the sample was
calculated. In order to have more reliable results, four samples were taken and four different time
intervals were used. At the end, the mean of the results was taken. The final result is 5.10

In the hypothesis, it was stated that the theoretical value of the specific heat capacity of water is 4.186
Joule/Gram°C. It was also expected that the specific heat capacity of the water might be higher than
this value, because the water which was used for this experiment was not pure. Due to impurities, the
specific heat capacity should have been high. As a conclusion, the experimental value is higher than
the theoretical value; 5.10 Joule/Gram°C > 4.186 Joule/Gram°C.

Although the result was an expected one, there might be some errors lacking the reliability and the
accuracy of the experiment. For the experiment, an electrical heater was used. Even though the
electrical heater was made up of plastic for the insulation, it may not be enough. All in all, plastic
transfers heat in little amounts, too. While taking the measurement by thermometer, the thermometer
was hold at the end. There might have been heat transfer between the hand and the thermometer.

Finally, no lid for the heater was used during the experiment. There has been heat loss and this might
have caused some errors.


Although the result was valid for the hypothesis, the result can be evaluated by some improvements.
For instance, the electrical heater losses heat by lid and its body, using calorimeter and lid may give
more reliable results by preventing the heat loss. On the other hand, using fresh water may give closer
results to the actual value. Because the water I used was not pure enough, the specific heat capacity of
the water altered.

Using digital thermometer can minimize the unreliability. Since there was heat transfer between
thermometer and the hand, the thermometer might not have given the exact results that I got from the


Nave. C.R, Specific Heat Capacity of Water, retrieved from; http://hyperphysics.phy-

Hamper, Chris. (2009). Higher Level Physics Developed Specifically For The IB Diploma.

Pearson Education Limited: England.