Energy and Combustion


Understanding the rate of ignition and combustion of common household items helps make safer spaces. Inorganic building materials have a different rate of ignition than organic or synthetic items. Furniture made of wood will be a different kind of fuel source than furniture made of foam plastic or synthetic upholstery.


  • What is heat release rate and how is it measured?

Problem to be Solved

  • When fire investigators know how different fuels ignite and combust, they can better understand a burn scene and can build stronger claims based on a knowledge of types of evidence and patterns of fuels.


Energy and Combustion

Age Group

Middle School


Fire Forensics


  • Investigation 3
  • Video Student Xplorlab pages
  • Beaker or soda can
  • Graduated cylinder (to measure water)
  • Water (50 mL)
  • Small digital thermometer
  • Beaker stand (to hold beaker) or ring stand (to hold can)
  • Paper clip or straight pin
  • Cork
  • Assortment of real fuels found in the interior of a home OR
  • Assortment of food items


Students watch the interactive video of our UL Fire Experts in the fire research lab to make observations of the timing, behavior, and smoke of different fuels as they burn. The video continues with the building of a calorimeter to measure the heat released from common household furnishings. If your classroom has the proper ventilation and equipment, directions are provided for building a calorimeter for classroom investigation.