Climate Change / Global Warming Science Demonstrations, Activities and Labs

Avoiding Flawed, Problem Science Demonstrations-- Greenhouse Effect in a Bottle; Heating Carbon Dioxide vs. Air;
Let's be sure the demonstrations we recommend to fellow educators get the science right!
Testing the demos, mistakes revealed --
Lab & field results from scientists and hundreds of students & teachers
Hands-on Science Avoiding Flawed Demos > Greenhouse Effect > Testing, Lab Results

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Avoiding Flawed

Greenhouse Effect

Faulty Demos
Errors, Misconceptions
Testing, Lab Results
Scientifically Strong

Example of
Mobile Climate
Science Lab
Test Results:
"Greenhouse Gas
in a Bottle

Test after test:
there just were not any
real, measurable
temperature differential

The air samples were as
likely to be slightly
higher than the CO2
as the other way around.

Various types of
incandescent lamps,
varying wattages

Calibration of
temperature probes.
All seven track together
within 0.2 Celsius from
5 to 60 degrees C.
Most within 0.05 C

Thank you,
Pasco Scientific

This web portal
is a resource within
America's online library
for Education &
Research in Science,
Technology, Engineering,

Introduction, Index, Home Page
Testing Out the Demonstrations & Activities -- in the Lab & in the Field -- Overview
Reporting Experimental Results
Three Independent Programs -- Lab Researchers & Science Educators

Climate change in a shoebox:
Right result, wrong physics

Published May 2010
in American Journal of Physics
American Association of Physics Teachers

Paper on the S.B. Lueddecke et al. demo:

Paul Wagoner -- TERC
Chunhua Liu -- Tufts University
and R. G. Tobin -- Tufts University

Available on-line on several servers: [pdf]
American Journal of Physics
Natural Science
Terc news announcement

Abstract of the Wagoner, Liu and Tobin paper
Classroom experiments that purport to demonstrate the
role of carbon dioxide’s far-infrared absorption in
global climate change are more subtle than is
commonly appreciated. We show, using both
experimental results and theoretical analysis,
that one such experiment demonstrates an entirely
different phenomenon: The greater density of
carbon dioxide compared to air reduces heat transfer
by suppressing convective mixing with the ambient air.
Other related experiments are subject to similar concerns.
Argon, which has a density close to that of
carbon dioxide but no infrared absorption,
provides a valuable experimental control for separating
radiative from convective effects. A simple analytical
model for estimating the magnitude of the radiative
greenhouse effect is presented, and the effect is
shown to be very small for most tabletop experiments.

Thank you, Scott Mandia,
for bringing this essential paper to the attention of
the Mobile Climate Science Labs, immediately after we
contacted the Climate Science Rapid Response Team
for assistance on this topic.

Mobile Climate Science Labs

Replicating the demos reviewed in this section.
Reviewing, reporting lab results.
Scientists, kids, teachers, engineers, parents.

Thermal imaging to test properties of
materials and energy sources commonly
used in demos at various IR wavelengths.

Bringing various demos out to the public.
Mainly it is the very solid, carefully evaluated demos.
Some always being vetted -- We want to let the kids,
parents and teachers have a chance to test them too.
Above: At the opening day of the Bill Nye Climate Lab
exhibit at Chabot Space and Science Center.
Testing greenhouse in bottles & jars demos.

Sharing results, pro bono, with institutions interested.

Back in the lab, doing quantative measurements
of the output of IR heat lamps --
as used by Bill Nye & Al Gore.
Illuminance/voltage dimming required, if to be equal.

Lawrence Hall of Science's:
Global Systems Science,
Lifelines for High School
Climate Change Education

A NASA Innovations in Climate Education project
Alan Gould, PI

Experimental results:
No differential temperature rise observed,
between concentrated CO2 and air.
Exposing samples side by side to sunlight.
Multiple runs, by independent groups,
using a variety of techniques

Quoting from:
From Teacher's Guide to the
GSS Climate Change Text -- page 47

It occurred to several groups of teachers at the
Global Systems Science institutes that an especially
valuable experience would be for students to measure
heat absorption by greenhouse gases.
The idea was certainly promising.
Scientists at Mauna Loa Observatory used a heat
absorption method to accurately measure the
concentration of carbon dioxide gas at a concentration of
just .035%. Surely, a pure sample left in sunlight would
heat faster than a sample of air! This plan was supported
by a published activity in which students measured heat
absorption by water vapor, a greenhouse gas.
Unfortunately, all of the efforts by GSS staff and teacher
participants have failed (so far) to develop a procedure,
using laboratory equipment that is easily available, that
will enable students to measure the differential absorption
of heat energy by air and pure samples of greenhouse
gases. While the results seemed reasonable in most of
the pilot experiments, the class data only turned up
random differences in the temperatures of the various
samples. This was even the case when we tested the
published activity. We have speculated on several
reasons why it may be difficult to find consistent
differences among the samples. Perhaps the gas samples
were too small to absorb enough energy so that we could
measure a difference. Perhaps heat was lost through the
walls of the containers. Perhaps our methods of
measurement were not sensitive enough. We won’t know
for sure, until we find a method that works! We still believe
that there’s a simple answer out there, somewhere, and we
invite you to join in the search! To get you started, we’d
like to share the excellent work done by the high school
teachers at the GSS institutes, so that you can benefit from
their experience. If you develop a method that seems to
show consistent differences when the experiment is done
by an entire class of students, please tell us how to do it!

Introduction and Index
Faulty demonstrations being heavily promoted -- over a dozen examples
Errors and misconceptions commonly found in flawed demonstrations
>>  Testing the demos, mistakes revealed -- lab & field results from scientists and hundreds of students & teachers <<

Scientifically strong demonstrations engaging millions. Powerful, fun, dramatic, unforgettable.
Resources & Further Background
Encouraging rebuttal: welcoming sponsor-promoters to defend if demos are scientifically valid.
Testing the evidence for everyone to see, experience for themselves -- that's what has made science demonstrations so very powerful in history

Acknowledgements, Thank You's            Contact

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We are a team of teachers, docents, scientists, engineers, techs, artists, students and parents providing
pro bono services for thousands of climate education programs worldwide. While primarily based at science museums
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If you are part of designing, teaching, presenting and/or supporting sound science hands-on demonstrations on climate change, perhaps we should be working together.