A Simple Science Fair Experiment with a Raspberry Pi Computer

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

A Raspberry Pi is a $35 computer that has really captivated the imagination of tinkerers, makers, and people who void warranties. Compared to a traditional laptop or desktop it is cheap. Because it runs on a Linux operating system, and can access the internet, you can interact with it remote. Since it is so cheap and powerful, it is the kind of computer that you can completely dedicate to a task.

Since I got my first Raspberry Pi (I have 2 and want some more), I have been struggling to find a simple science experiment that I could do around the house. I wanted to do something interesting, that used something I was familiar with. It also had to involve temperature since that was the only probe I owned at the time.

I have a glass beaker mug that I got from a conference. I don’t remember the conference, but that was a highly coveted piece of swag from the exhibition floor, and I felt that I was lucky to have it. As cool as it looks, it is the worst mug I own. Drinking coffee from that mug is like a drinking contest; it cools down so fast! So I decided to see which of my¬†coffee mugs would keep my coffee drinkable the longest.

This has all of the core components of a classic science fair project.

  • Observation: My coffee gets cold too quickly in this mug.
  • Hypothesis: I bet other mugs might be better.
  • Experiment: I can measure the temperature of water as it cools down over a long period of time using a temperature probe. Heat 300mL of water (the beaker mug has graduation marks, so it isn’t totally worthless) for 2 minutes in the microwave. Pour the hot water into the mug of choice. Stick in the temperature probe. Watch the temperature drop as it cools down.
  • Conclusion: None yet, but my travel mug seems to be doing the best.


I am a little surprised by this. I thought my ceramic mugs were better than my glass mug. According to this, there is little to no difference.

I also leads me to other questions:

  • Are there other better ceramic mugs in my house.
  • Will a lid help?
  • What about a travel mug without a lid?
  • What is the optimal drinking temperature – the best mug should be there the longest?

It took most of Labor Day to collect this data, and I did most of it while I was doing other things. Again, because the RPi is a dedicated computer, I can dedicate it to watching temperatures for a long time, and do some calculations with it.

I wish I were young enough to enter it in the Science Fair!

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