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The information below is intended to provide a description of the demonstration, an explanation for elementary students, and further explanation for high school students.

Please keep in mind that not all demonstrations are presented at each show.


SHUTTLE TILE

Figure I.

Description

Equipment: Shuttle Tile (from the space shuttle Columbia)
Propane Torch

Step 1: The audience is shown the shuttle tile and the tile's properties are discussed. The demonstrator then uses the propane torch to heat a portion of the tile to a very high temperature, as seen by the red glow. (See Figure I.) Only the portions of the tile close to the region being heated are affected by the heating, and the demonstrator can put his hand anywhere on the tile without feeling heat, except for very near where the tile was directly heated.


Description

Basic Ideas: Heat moves through a material at a specific rate. The rate it travels depends on the material itself: some materials allow heat to move quickly through them, some materials allow heat to move very slowly through them.

The shuttle tile is made of a material which is 99.8 percent silica-based.

Step 1: The silica-based shuttle tile is a material which only allows heat to move through it very slowly. When one spot of the tile is heated by the propane torch, that heat moves very slowly through the tile. At the same time, the heat from the tile radiates and is conducted to the air. Since the heat moves very slowly, only the portion of the tile very near where the tile was directly heated has been affected by the heat. Everywhere else, the heat spreads very slowly.

It is important that the shuttle tiles are made of such a material. When the space shuttle is returning to Earth through the Earth's atmosphere, the outside of the shuttle gets very hot. In order to keep the astronauts inside the shuttle from burning up, the shuttle must be covered in a material which does not allow heat to move through it very easily.


Description

Basic Ideas: The thermal current is directly proportional to the coefficient of thermal conductivity. Different materials have different coefficients of thermal conductivity.

The shuttle tile is made of a material which is a silica, alumina fiber and borosilicate glass composite.

Step 1: The shuttle tile is a material which has a very low coefficient of thermal conductivity. When one spot of the tile is heated by the propane torch, the thermal current inside of the tile is therefore very low. The thermal current from the tile and through the air is actually higher. Since the thermal current is so low, only the portion of the tile very near where the tile was directly heated has been affected by the heat. Everywhere else, the heat moves very slowly.

It is important that the shuttle tiles are made of such a material. When the space shuttle is returning to Earth through the Earth's atmosphere, the outside of the shuttle gets very hot. In order to keep the astronauts inside the shuttle from burning up, the shuttle must be covered in a material which has a very low coefficient of thermal conductivity.


Related Topics

The following physics topics are discussed during this demonstration:

Sponsored by the Physics Department and the Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education -- University of Virginia