invented the Richter scale? Or the Fahrenheit scale? This sounds
like a "Who is buried in Grant's tomb?" joke, but it's no joke.
People named Richter, Doppler, Fahrenheit and Celsius really did
exist, and they invented devices to help people measure heat, cold
and the weather.
Fahrenheit and Celsius lived mostly
during the 1700s, Doppler lived during the 1800s, and Richter lived
during the 1900s. You know what they invented because they became
household names, so here's the scoop on each inventor.
Physicist Gabriel Fahrenheit
(1686-1736) was born in Danzig, Poland, which is now Gdansk. He
invented the first mercury thermometer in 1714 and then developed
the first accurate thermometer 10 years later. Along with his
improved thermometer, Fahrenheit introduced the temperature scale
that bears his name. At the time there were already 19 other
temperature scales in use.
In addition to determining that water
boils at 212 degrees and freezes at 32 degrees, Fahrenheit
discovered that every liquid has its own unique boiling point.
Americans use the Fahrenheit scale, but people who live in countries
that use the metric system use the Celsius scale.
Astronomy professor Anders Celsius
(1701-1744) was born in Uppsala, Sweden. In 1742 he built what was
originally known as the centigrade scale, which contained 100
degrees, or steps. He named it the centigrade scale because the word
"centi" means "hundred" and "grade" means "steps" in Latin.
Celsius figured that the point at which
water freezes must be the same temperature at which at which snow
melts. He would often stick a mercury thermometer (which Fahrenheit
had invented earlier) in the snow and measure the temperature at
which the snow melted.
Oddly enough, his original scale showed
zero as the boiling point of water and 100 degrees as the freezing
point. The scale was reversed the following year so that zero became
known as the freezing point and 100 degrees as the boiling point.
The name of his scale was changed from centigrade to Celsius in
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Physicist Christian Doppler
(1803-1853) was born in Salzberg,
Austria. Actually, he was a baby when he was born; he became a
physicist after entering adulthood (pardon the subtle yet lame
attempt at humor, but I just wanted to make sure that you're still
paying attention). You're probably familiar with the term "Doppler
radar" because the weatherman uses it on the weather reports.
In 1842 Doppler explained the "Doppler
effect." An easy way to understand the Doppler effect is by noticing
the difference in the sound of a train's whistle (or a police siren,
ambulance, etc.) as it moves farther away. The pitch increases as
the vehicle moves toward you and decreases as it moves away from
you. This was later shown to work with light as well. Today, Doppler
radar is used to help predict the weather, as it can see the winds
inside of storms, making it helpful in locating and predicting the
arrival of tornadoes.
Seismologist Charles Richter
(1900-1985) was born in Hamilton,
Ohio. His Richter scale measures the height of the seismic waves
released during an earthquake. One misconception that people have
regarding the Richter scale is that it's an instrument or device.
The Richter scale is actually a series of tables and charts that
correlate the scale to the seismogram readings; the machine that
shows the results is called a seismograph.
The numbers on the Richter scale
measure the earthquake in 10-fold units, meaning that an earthquake
that registers a five is 10 times more powerful than a quake that
registers a four, an earthquake that registers a four is 10 times
more powerful than a quake that registers a three, and so on.
Another misconception about the Richter
scale is that 10 is the highest possible measure of an earthquake.
In reality, the Richter scale is an open-ended scale, and while it
is possible to hit a 10, it has never happened since the scale was
introduced in 1935. The Richter scale has also been used to measure
the strength of quakes on the moon and Mars.
pretty much covers it!
Invention Mysteries is written each
week by Paul Niemann. He can be reached at Niemann7@aol.com. To see
pictures of the inventors mentioned in this story, visit
© Copyright Paul Niemann 2004