Thermometer, Development

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A thermometer is a device that measures temperature or a temperature gradient using a variety of different principles. A thermometer has two important elements: the temperature sensor (e.g. the bulb on a mercury-in-glass thermometer) in which some physical change occurs with temperature, plus some means of converting this physical change into a numerical value (e.g. the visible scale that is marked on a mercury-in-glass thermometer).


Various authors have credited the invention of the thermometer to Cornelis Drebbel, Robert Fludd, Galileo Galilei or Santorio Santorio. The thermometer was not a single invention, however, but a development.

Philo of Byzantium and Hero of Alexandria knew of the principle that certain substances, notably air, expand and contract and described a demonstration in which a closed tube partially filled with air had its end in a container of water. The expansion and contraction of the air caused the position of the water/air interface to move along the tube.

Such a mechanism was later used to show the hotness and coldness of the air with a tube in which the water level is controlled by the expansion and contraction of the gas. These devices were developed by several European scientists in the 16th and 17th centuries, notably Galileo Galilei.R.S. Doak (2005) Galileo: astronomer and physicist ISBN 0-7565-0813-4 p36 As a result, devices were shown to produce this effect reliably, and the term thermoscope was adopted because it reflected the changes in sensible heat (the concept of temperature was yet to arise). The difference between a thermoscope and a thermometer is that the latter has a scale. Though Galileo is often said to be the inventor of the thermometer, what he produced were thermoscopes.

The first clear diagram of a thermoscope was published in 1617 by Giuseppe Biancani: the first showing a scale and thus constituting a thermometer was by Robert Fludd in 1638. This was a vertical tube, closed by a bulb of air at the top, with the lower end opening into a vessel of water. The water level in the tube is controlled by the expansion and contraction of the air, so it is what we would now call an air thermometer.

The first person to put a scale on a thermoscope is variously said to be Francesco Sagredo or Santorio Santorio in about 1611 to 1613.

The word thermometer (in its French form) first appeared in 1624 in La Récréation Mathématique by J. Leurechon, who describes one with a scale of 8 degrees.R.P. Benedict (1984) Fundamentals of Temperature, Pressure, and Flow Measurements, 3rd ed, ISBN 0-471-89383-8 page 4 The word comes from the Greek words θερμός, thermos, meaning "hot" and μἐτρον, metron, meaning "measure".

The above instruments suffered from the disadvantage that they were also barometers, i.e. sensitive to air pressure. In about 1654 Ferdinando II de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, made sealed tubes part-filled with alcohol, with a bulb and stem; the first modern-style thermometer, dependent on the expansion of a liquid, and independent of air pressure. Many other scientists experimented with various liquids and designs of thermometer.

However, each inventor and each thermometer was unique—there was no standard scale. In 1665 Christiaan Huygens suggested using the melting and boiling points of water as standards, and in 1694 Carlo Renaldini proposed using them as fixed points on a universal scale. In 1701 Isaac Newton proposed a scale of 12 degrees between the melting point of ice and body temperature. Finally in 1724 Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit produced a temperature scale which now (slightly adjusted) bears his name. He could do this because he manufactured thermometers, using mercury (which has a high coefficient of expansion) for the first time and the quality of his production could provide a finer scale and greater reproducibility, leading to its general adoption. In 1742 Anders Celsius proposed a scale with zero at the boiling point and 100 degrees at the freezing point of water, though the scale which now bears his name has them the other way around.

In 1866 Sir Thomas Clifford Allbutt invented a clinical thermometer that produced a body temperature reading in five minutes as opposed to twenty.Sir Thomas Clifford AllbuttCopyright: Attribute—Share Alike

External Links

  • WikipediaHistory of Temperature and ThermometryThe Chemical Educator, Vol. 5, No. 2 (2000)History Channel – Invention

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