How to make a Thermometer


John Scavo

This lesson was created as a part of the SMART website and is hosted by the Illinois Institute of Technology

     A thermometer is an instrument that measures the temperature.  Temperature is measured in a scale called Fahrenheit (by most people in the United States) and in Celsius or Centigrade (used by scientists and people in many other countries).  The point where water freezes is 32 degrees Fahrenheit (F for short) and ) degrees Celsius (C).  The point where water freezes is 32 degrees Fahrenheit (F for short) and ) degrees Celsius (C).  The point where water boils is 212 degrees F and 100 degrees C.  If you want to know how to convert from F to C or from C to F, see the end of this lesson.

     Some scientific thermometers use the Kelvin scale, where degrees Kelvin is called absolute zero  --  a place where there is no movement of any of the parts of matter, where substances have no thermal energy.  It's about minus 273.15 degrees C (below zero C) or 459.67 degrees below 0 F.  Scientists have never been able to measure anything at absolute zero, though they have gotten very close.

     Thermometers help us to know what the weather will be like.  If it will be 90 F outside, we're not going to put on a winter coat.  Or if it's below zero, we won't be wearing shorts.  Here's a way to show how a simple thermometer works.

What You will need:


What to do:

1.  Pour equal parts of tap water and rubbing alcohol into the bottle, filling about 1/8 to a 1/4 of the bottle.

2.  Add a couple of drops of food coloring and mix.

3.  Put the straw in the bottle, but do not let the straw touch the bottom.

4.  Use the modeling clay to seal the neck of the bottle, so the straw stays in place.

5.  Now hold your hands on the bottle and watch what happens to the mixture in the bottle.



     Congratulations!  You just made a thermometer.  Just like any thermometer, the mixture expanded when it was warmed.  This made the liquid no longer fit in the bottom of the bottle.  As the alcohol expanded he colored mixture moved up through the straw.  If the bottle were to get very hot, the liquid would have come through the top of the straw.

     You can watch the thermometer and see how the liquid changes throughout the day.  What happens if your thermometer is in the shade or in sunlight?  What happens when it gets colder?  How does wind affect the thermometer?

     Of course, in order to accurately read the temperature, you will need to buy a real thermometer that is carefully calibrated for temperature changes.  This one is to see how a thermometer works -- just for fun.

     After you're done with your thermometer, dispose of the liquid properly and rinse the bottle well.  Cut it in half so the bottle can't be reused.  Then recycle the plastic.  The used bottle could have some alcohol left in it, and you don't want anyone to reuse it.  So, it's best to recycle the bottle.


Changing temperature scales:

     The Fahrenheit scale was named after Gabriel D. Fahrenheit who lived from 1686 to 1736.  He devised a way of measuring temperature.  The Celsius scale was named after Anders Celsius, its inventor, who lived from 1701-1744.  The Celsius scale is also called Centigrade.  The Centi in centigrade means 1/100 ( one One-hundredth) for the 100 equal divisions on the scale and is used by scientists.  It is the temperature scale used by most of the world.  The difference between the temperature where water freezes and boils is an even number of degrees....100.  In the Fahrenheit scale, the difference between freezing (32 F) and boiling (212 F) is 180.


     You can change the temperature from Fahrenheit into Celsius using math.

     Take your number: subtract 32 from it, and divide the remainder by 1.8.


     Change 75 degrees Fahrenheit into Celsius.

              75 - 32 = 43

              43 / 1.8 = 23.88 C

              So, 75 F is equal to 23.88 C.


     To change the temperature from Celsius to Fahrenheit, Multiply your number by 1.8 and add 32.


     Change 12 degrees Celsius into Fahrenheit.

               12 x 1.8 = 21.6

               21.6 + 32 = 53.6 F

               So, 12 C is equal to 53.6 F.







Zero to Einstein in 60 seconds, The Wild Goose Company, pp. 14-16.

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