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The Sound of Science - 'Temperature Scales'


Newt: You're listening to The Sound of Science on WNIJ. I'm Newt with NIU Steam.

Becky: And I'm Becky.

Newt: With the weather changing so often, we wanted to talk about the different scales with which the world measures temperature.

Becky: Way back in 1724, Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit came up with a scale of fixed points against which temperature could be rated. He selected zero degrees as a point in which salty water would freeze and 212 degrees as water's boiling point.

Newt: He did a pretty good job and everyone clapped. But then a few decades later in 1742, Anders Celsius said hold on, I think there's a better set of points we can use. He said zero is actually the temperature at which freshwater freezes and 100 is the temperature at which water boils.

Becky: Wow, said almost everyone in the world. We really liked how you chose such easy numbers to work with. We appreciate the work Fahrenheit did, but this is preferable, so we're going to adopt this measurement scale instead.

Newt: But English-speaking countries resisted the change for a little longer, until the United States ended up pretty alone in its continued use of Fahrenheit. That isn't to say there was never a push to change. The Metric Conversion act of 1975 tried to encourage the use of Celsius in the metric system more generally, but swapping systems was completely voluntary.

Becky: And change is hard. Without support and guidance, this act sort of flopped. Other than uniformity, is there a reason to switch or is Fahrenheit still a valuable way to measure temperature?

Newt: Fahrenheit wasn't wrong when he made his measurement scale. Some people even argue that because Fahrenheit has a wider set of numbers, temperature measurements are more accurate. As a less science based argument, other people say that Fahrenheit is more intuitive to human experience. When we check the weather, we aren't trying to compare the air outside to how close to boiling water would be at that temperature. We want to know how warm or cold we'll feel while we're out in Fahrenheit feels more accurate to that.

Becky: But if we were raised in a country that uses Celsius, we'd probably be fairly accustomed to that system.

Newt: I personally think Fahrenheit is cool, but could warm up to using Celsius.

Becky: This has been The Sound of Science on WNIJ, where you learn something new every day

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