Calorimetry lab

Calorimetry – Measuring the energy in Foods

 There are two processes that organisms use to make usable energy. The process by which autotrophs convert sunlight to a usable form of energy is called photosynthesis. Photosynthesis supports all life on earth. Products from photosynthesis include food, textiles, fuel, wood, oils, and rubber. During photosynthesis, light energy is used to make organic compounds from inorganic water and carbon dioxide. Photosynthesis goes through light dependent reactions and the light independent reactions which include the Calvin cycle.
The process where heterotrophs break down food molecules to release energy for work is called cellular respiration. Cellular respiration is the reverse of photosynthesis; the reactants of one are the products of the other. The reactants of cellular respiration are glucose and oxygen, and the products are carbon dioxide, water, and energy.  Cellular respiration breaks down glucose to form carbon dioxide and water, while releasing energy usable by the cells. The first step, glycolysis is the process  that converts glucose to pyruvate and releases a small amount of cellular energy.  The second step may be aerobic or anaerobic depending on the amount of oxygen available.  Aerobic respiration is the breakdown of pyruvate in the presence of oxygen.  A larger amount of cellular energy or ATP is produced during the Kreb’s cycle and electron transport chain. Anaerobic respiration is the breakdown of food molecules in the absence of oxygen. Less ATP is produced by anaerobic respiration or fermentation.

If the heat given off by a burning pecan is measured by how much the temperature increases in a given amount of water, then the number of calories of energy stored in the nut during photosynthesis can be determined.

Items needed for the lab included a large paper clip, a 100 ml graduated cylinder, thermometer, 2 soft drink cans, electronic balance, butane lighter, plastic tray, scissors, paper, and pencil.

Use a graduated cylinder to measure 100 ml of water and add this to an empty soft drink can. Cut holes on two sides of a second soft drink can so there is room to place a large bent paper clip.  Measure and record the mass of one pecan using the electronic balance. Bend a large paper clip to make a "nut stand" and measure and record  the mass of this clip. Place the pecan on the nut stand and put the stand inside the cut-out drink can.  Use a thermometer to measure and record the temperature of the water in the second can.  Place this can on top of the can with the nut. Use a butane lighter to ignite the nut. Record the temperature of the water when the nut is completely burned. Complete the data table by calculating the  the total calories in the pecan.


Data Table 1

  Before Burning After Burning Difference
Mass of Nut

1.7 g



Temperature of Water




Mass of Paper Clip





Data Table 2

Mass of pecan

0.1 g

Temperature change of 100 ml of water


Calories required to produce temperature change in 100 ml water


Calories per gram contained in the pecan


Error Analysis:
Errors may have occurred in several ways during this experiment. One error that may have occurred is that some of the energy may have been lost during the burning. Some of the pecan’s energy was lost as light instead of heat energy. Also some of the heat measured in the water could have been due to the butane lighter used to ignite the pecan.

The temperature of the 100 ml of water in the can above the burning pecan was changed by the energy given off by the pecan when it was burned.  The energy given off by the burning pecan was great enough to increase the water temperature by 20.1 degrees Celsius. The mass of the unburned pecan was 1.7g. It takes 100 calories to raise the temperature of 1 ml of water by 1 degree Celsius. The temperature of 100 ml of water was recorded to have increased by 20.1 degrees Celsius; therefore, the total number of calories in the pecan equals 20.1 x 100 or 2010 calories. Since the nut had a mass of 1.7g, the number of calories per gram equals 2010 divided by 1.7 or 1182.4 calories per gram.
The increase of temperature in the water showed that energy had been stored in the pecan. In this experiment, the amount of calories of heat energy stored in a pecan during photosynthesis was measured by a process known as calorimetry.