How to make your own cooler as a science project

Written by joan collins
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How to make your own cooler as a science project
Make a cardboard box cooler for an effective and fun science project. (cardboard box image by MAXFX from

Science projects give budding scientists an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge. For a cool project, create a cooler that not only looks good but actually works to keep food cold. Before modern refrigeration, people developed methods to keep their food cold. Insulation materials vary, including fibreglass, cellulose, vermiculite and various foams. You'll use some of these items in your project. For food safety, your cooler needs to maintain a temperature of 4.44 degrees C or colder. Demonstrate your knowledge of effective insulation with this simple homemade cooler science project.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • 24 x 24-inch cardboard box
  • Duct tape
  • Knife or box cutter
  • 2 pieces nylon rope, 8-inches long each
  • Black trash bag
  • 1-inch thick styrofoam sheet, 24 by 48 inches
  • 1/2-inch thick styrofoam sheet 24 by 48 inches
  • Glue
  • Thermometer
  • Ice
  • Vermiculite

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  1. 1

    Prepare a cardboard box to transform into a homemade cooler. Remove the flaps from the top of the box. Place a 4-inch strip of duct tape on each opposite inner side of the cardboard box, about 4 inches below the top. Carefully place a second 4-inch strip of duct tape on the outside of the box, even with the tape on the inside of the box. Cut two 1/2-inch holes 2 inches apart near the centre of both of the two strips of duct tape, creating four holes. The holes should be even with each other.

  2. 2

    Thread a 8-inch long, 1/2-inch-thick section of nylon rope through each set of holes. Tie the two ends together in a tight double knot on the outside of the box. This creates the handle for your cooler.

  3. 3

    Line a 24-inch by 24-inch cardboard box with plastic by inserting a black trash bag into it as if you were going to use the box as a dustbin. Flatten the bag against the sides of the box. Trim the trash bag to be flush with the top of the box. Tape the dustbin to the cardboard box around the entire top edge with duct tape.

  4. 4

    Measure the bottom of the box. Cut a sheet of 1-inch styrofoam to fit the bottom. Insert the styrofoam into the bottom of the box to hold the plastic in place.

  5. 5

    Measure two opposite sides of the box from side to side. Measure from top to bottom and subtract 1 1/2 inches from the total. Cut two panels of 1/2-inch foam to match your measurements and fit the sides. Add glue and fit the panels into place. Repeat this procedure with the other two sides of the box.

  6. 6

    Prepare to make an inner box by making four styrofoam panels. Cut two panels from 1-inch styrofoam that are approximately 19 1/2-inches long and 21 1/2-inches tall. When placed upright on the bottom of the box, adjust the styrofoam to reach 1 inch below the top of the box. Cut two more panels that are 17 1/2 inches long and 21 1/2 inches tall.

  7. 7

    Glue the four 1-inch styrofoam panels together to form a box that is 21 1/2-inches tall. Once the glue has dried, centre the styrofoam box inside the cardboard box, leaving a space almost 4 inches between the styrofoam box and the cardboard box on all four sides. Glue the styrofoam into place.

  8. 8

    Fill the space between the two layers of styrofoam with vermiculite, a granular insulating material, or a similar insulating material. Cut four strips of 1/2-inch styrofoam wide enough to cover the tops of both rows of styrofoam on either side of the insulation. Glue it on both sides to create a cover that keeps the vermiculite in place.

  9. 9

    Cut a sheet of 1-inch-thick styrofoam that covers the entire top of the box. Cut two 1/2-inch-deep fingerholds on one edge of the styrofoam lid. Repeat the step on the opposite end of the styrofoam. The cuts should be very near the edge or right on the edge of the lid. Place the lid on the box, fill it with ice, and you've made a nifty science project that will keep your drinks and food cool! Test your cooler's temperature with a thermometer. If it's not cool enough, you can add more styrofoam for better insulation.

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