Do things to Apples with the Sun… in the Name of Science!

Today, I have an assignment to uncover one of the earth’s puzzling mysteries…

What will bake an apple better:

a sun collector made from plain white paper, or one lined with tin foil?

To find out, I’ve set up a controlled experiment outside the museum, taking advantage of today’s sunny weather.

This is what I’ve used in my experiment:

  • 4 Dixie cups
  • 2 white sheets of printer paper (8 1/2″ x 11″)
  • 1 half sheet of black construction paper
  • 1 sheet of tin foil (8 1/2″ x 11″)
  • Plastic cling wrap to cover the tops of 2 of the dixie cups
  • 2 apple slices, the same size
  • Scotch tape


  1. Line the inside of 2 paper cups with black paper. I did this by cutting the half sheet in half again, lengthwise, and then putting each piece into a cup to fit to the rim, cutting away any of the excess, then taping everything down.
  2. Place a slice of apple in each cup. I used a Grapple – it was the only kind I could find in the grocery store today, and I’ve always wanted to try them (they crunch like and apple, but taste like a grape!). BTW – I don’t think they taste like grapes, but then again, I never think anything that is “grape flavored” ever does taste like grape. You can use any kind of apple, really, and apples are best for this experiment because it’s easy to see the difference in wilting over time.
  3. Tightly cover the cups with plastic cling wrap. 
  4. Make two large cones – the first will be just white paper. This part took me a little ingenuity and some reading ahead. I rolled a sheet of paper hamburger style and then popped it into one of the unused Dixie cups, and then fitted the paper to fit snuggly inside with a funnel mouth outside. Then I taped the roll together so it wouldn’t unravel or change shape.
  5. The second cone will be lined with tin foil. For this, I cut a sheet of foil to the size of the paper (8 1/2″ x 11″) and then taped the foil to the paper. Then I made the cone out of this piece the same way I did for the foil-less cone. 
  6. Place the apple cups into the cones.
  7. Cover the bottom of each of the cones and cups with one unused Dixie cup. 
  8. Find a sunny place outside and place your cup-ovens close together, so that they get the same amount of light. Today is supposed to get up to nearly 90 F here in Eugene, OR, so this is a good time for this experiment. I’m planning on checking on my apples every hour to see their progress.  

This is our building, by the way. It’s a factory, and we make science here.

  • Update

    4:14 pm – It’s the end of the day and I’ve just taken my apples in. I checked on them throughout the day, and from the outside, there wasn’t much opportunity to observe difference between the cups. Both of them got dewy – beads of moisture clung to the inside of the plastic wrap – indicating that the water in the apples was being drawn out of the apples. I think at one point it seemed like the foil one had more moisture, but that may be subjective. 
    When I dumped the apples out just now, the one in the foil cup was definitely warmer to touch. A taste test, however, yielded indeterminate results. Both pieces were soft and warm, but neither seemed more cooked than the other. 

    Considerations for adapting my experiment – I could try a less dense fruit. Apples have a lot of water in them, so it maybe that there was just too much to cook off in either cooker to make any real difference between the two. Also, I could widen the mouths of the cones to see if that enables the cookers to collect more sun light and thermal energy (heat) to cook the apples. The experiment as it is, though, didn’t generate conclusive data on the effectiveness of foil v. plain paper.
    Also, they still didn’t taste like grapes.


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