Anders Celsius

The widely used temperature scale bears the name of Celsius, but, interestingly, it was not actually invented or even used by him. This is a fascinating story that helps us understand the importance of different geographical and environmental conditions responsible for the evolution stories of several things in a certain way.

Anders Celsius lived in the Swedish town of Uppsala. In 1741, he was a professor of astronomy at Uppsala University. The markings of the scale developed by Celsius show that he came up with the idea of separating the freezing and boiling points of water by 100 degrees. He made his first observations with the scale on Christmas Day in 1741. But, there was something strange about this scale – Celsius had his scale upside down. He set zero degrees as the boiling point of water and 100 as the freezing point. But why would he do that?

A likely reason for this would be that he wanted to avoid negative numbers. In Sweden, it gets much colder than freezing point but never warmer than boiling water. So, you don’t have to worry about minus signs, and this helps avoid logbook errors.

It would be really weird if you had water boiling at zero degrees and freezing at 100. Although it might seem strange today, there is no objectively good reason for preferring an ascending scale over a descending one for measuring temperature. In fact, when Celsius died of tuberculosis in 1744, he was still using this inverted scale. So, who reversed it? It was the famous biologist Carl Linnaeus. This scale, for a long time, was called “centigrade scale” but due to differing meanings in different languages, and to bring this scale in alignment with Kelvin and Fahrenheit, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, in 1948, decided to rename the centigrade scale after a scientist. They chose Celsius possibly due to a popular 1800’s German chemistry textbook by Berzelius which might have propagated the myth that Celsius created this scale. Nonetheless, Celsius undoubtedly deserves the credit!

STEM CORNER - Dinesh Lahoti, Founder, Edugenie, [email protected]

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