Seeing temperature, kinetic energy and color

Posted January 24, 2010

by Lensyl Urbano

We read that temperature is the average kinetic energy of a substance but you can (especially if you’re a visual learner) nicely internalize this from simple videos or animations. UCAR has a little animation with their definition of temperature. I however, adapted an interactive, 3d animation that I think does a nice job, and also introduces a couple of other interesting concepts too.

I’ve also used this model, at different times, to show:

  • The relationship between temperature and color emitted by objects. The main way we know the temperature of stars is because blue stars are hotter than red stars. Blue light has a shorter wavelength than red light, and things that are at higher temperatures emit shorter wavelengths.
  • Absolute zero (0 Kelvin) – where (almost) all motion stops and the objects stop emitting light.
  • Pressure in a gas – you really get a feel for the force exerted by the particles on the side of the box (although it might be even more interesting once I figure out how to add sound).

It is an interactive model, but it’s pretty simple because the only control is a slider that lets you set the temperature.

Finally, in the age of 3d movies, like Avatar, the models can be easily shown in 3d if you have the glasses (redcyan).

The model is easy to install and run on Windows, but you have to install the programming language VPython separately on a Mac (but that isn’t very hard). I have this, and a bunch of other models, at

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Seeing temperature, kinetic energy and color, Retrieved April 20th, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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