How We Stay Warm in the Winter

Winter in New England is a time of snow and cold weather.  Most people take advantage of the snow to go skiing; some people go snowshoeing; and some choose to stay inside most of the time.  In any case, humans need to choose the clothing that helps them stay warm in the outdoors.  There are specific clothing types that help insulate our bodies from the cold.

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Out on the slopes, you will often find people wearing fluffy looking coats.  You know, the ones that make you look like a marshmallow?  Those coats are full of “down.”  Down is made of feathers, usually plucked from geese.  Many people don't know that the down itself isn’t an insulator: because the down is big and fluffy, it creates many pockets of air.  It's the pockets of air that create the incredible insulation, allowing down jackets to keep people so warm.

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There are some other people that choose to do something a bit unconventinal during the winter: they go surfing.  And though the water is less than 40°F and the air colder than freezing, surfers can stay warm by wearing extremely thick neoprene suits.  The neoprene doesn’t keep water out, in fact, it allows water in.  The water that is allowed into the suit is then warmed up by the human in the suit.  That water is then stuck it in the suit, creating an insulating layer of warm water.  This allows surfers to spend long periods of time in extremely cold water.


Insulation Challenge

To test what sorts of materials act as insulators against the cold, try this experiment with your students:

Tools:

  • 3-5 of the same style water bottle

  • Hot water

  • Thermometer

  • 3-5 different types of clothing, including down, cotton, and fleece

Instruction:

  • Place hot water (not boiling) into a water bottle and take its temperature

  • Wrap the bottle in a chosen style of clothing

  • Take the temperature of the water every 5 minutes for 1 hour

  • Do the same process for the different styles of clothing

  • Compare rates at which different bottles cooled based on what type of clothing they were wrapped in