Physics Lens

Heat Capacity of Water

Water has a high specific heat capacity of about 4200 J kg-1 K-1. When a little bit of water is placed in a balloon, it is able to absorb a significant amount of heat from a candle flame and hence prevent the balloon from bursting.
  1. Two balloons
  2. Two candles
  3. Lighter
  1. In this demonstration, one balloons is filled with about 3 tablespoons of water and then inflated.
  2. Another balloon is inflated to the same size as the first to serve as a control.
  3. Both balloons are then placed vertically over two identical candles. Adjust the balloons such that the distance from balloon to candle is the same for both setups. You can use retort stands to clamp the balloons in place if you have them.
  4. Light the candles with the balloons temporarily removed. The flames will have to touch the bottom of the balloon when they are placed back over the candles.
  5. Observe the balloon without water burst first.
  6. The air gushing out from the exploding balloon may put out the other candle.
  7. If you like, you can keep the balloon with water over the flame for a longer duration. The balloon still will not burst until a long time later.