Temperature, Empirically based scales

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A temperature is a numerical measure of hot and cold. Its measurement is by detection of heat radiation, particle velocity, kinetic energy, or most commonly, by the bulk behavior of a thermometric material. It may be calibrated in any of various temperature scales, Celsius, Fahrenheit, Kelvin, etc.


Empirically based temperature scales rely directly on measurements of simple physical properties of materials. For example, the length of a column of mercury, confined in a glass-walled capillary tube, is dependent largely on temperature, and is the basis of the very useful mercury-in-glass thermometer. Such scales are valid only within convenient ranges of temperature. For example, above the boiling point of mercury, a mercury-in-glass thermometer is impracticable. Most materials expand with temperature increase, but some materials, such as water, contract with temperature increase over some specific range, and then they are hardly useful as thermometric materials. A material is of no use as a thermometer near one of its phase-change temperatures, for example its boiling-point.

In spite of these restrictions, most generally used practical thermometers are of the empirically based kind. Especially, it was used for calorimetry, which contributed greatly to the discovery of thermodynamics. Nevertheless, empirical thermometry has serious drawbacks when judged as a basis for theoretical physics. Empirically based thermometers, beyond their base as simple direct measurements of ordinary physical properties of thermometric materials, can be re-calibrated, by use of theoretical physical reasoning, and this can extend their range of adequacy.

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External Links

  • WikipediaAn elementary introduction to temperature aimed at a middle school audiencefrom Oklahoma State UniversityAverage yearly temperature by country

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