Temperature - how do we measure hot and cold?
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Temperature

Thermometer

September 2016 - Many hot things take up more room than the same things when they are cold. Thermometers take advantage of that to measure heat. The old-fashioned kind of thermometer you see here is a narrow glass tube with a glass ball or bulb at the bottom. Inside the glass is a little bit of mercury or another liquid (it is not mercury in this picture). When the liquid is cold, the molecules of mercury (or whatever) stay quiet and close together, and they don't take up much space, so they can all fit inside the bulb down at the bottom. But as the liquid gets hotter, for instance if you rub the thermometer, or put it in your mouth, or if the sun is warming up your part of the earth, the molecules of liquid begin to move around more and bounce off each other. Then they take up more room. They don't fit in the bulb anymore, so they have to travel up the tube. The hotter it gets, the further apart the molecules get, and the higher the liquid goes up the tube.

The liquid doesn't care what is written on the outside of the tube; those numbers are just so we can measure how far up the liquid has gone. In the United States, people often measure heat in Fahrenheit degrees. Everywhere else in the world, people measure heat in Celsius or Centigrade degrees, which are the same thing. Celsius degrees are bigger than Fahrenheit degrees. On the Celsius scale, water freezes into ice at zero degrees and boils at 100 degrees. On the Fahrenheit scale, water freezes at 32 degrees and boils into steam at 212 degrees. So from freezing to boiling there are 100 Celsius degrees, but there are 180 Fahrenheit degrees. It's about 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer in the picture - what is the temperature in Celsius degrees?


Learn by doing - Thermometers

Bibliography and further reading about temperature:

Learn by doing - Temperature
What is ice?
More about Weather
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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