Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Bubble Wrap and Thermal Transfer
Name: Steven 
Status: Student
Grade: K-3
Location: N/A
Country: United States
Date: June 2006


Question:
How does bubble wrap reduce thermal energy transfer?



Replies:
Air, especially when it is not free to circulate, is a poor heat conductor. The idea behind many types of insulation -- not just bubble wrap -- is to trap the air so that it is not free to circulate. That is what bubble wrap does. It traps the air in the bubbles so that it cannot circulate, except within each cell. The same idea applies to foam cups used to serve hot beverages. If you look at such a cup with a magnifying glass -- crush it so you can see inside the walls of the cup -- you will see that it is made up of tiny air bubbles too. This prevents the hot air (or steam) from moving easily from the hot liquid to your hand.

Vince Calder


Steven,

Whenever you go into a room, or outside for example, your body begins heating the air around it to about the same temperature as you are. This is why wind feels cool, as the air immidiately around you is constantly being refreshed, and must be reheated. Warm clothes, such as a fluffy sweater, trap the air right next to your body so it is not being replaced so fast.

Bubblewrap, like you asked about, actually contains the same small amounts of air in tiny plastic bubbles. This prevents the air from blowing or floating away as it is heated. Since air does not conduct the heat very well itself, that heat gets trapped right there with the bubble wrap.

Ryan Belscamper



Click here to return to the Engineering Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory