Sunday, January 20, 2008

Celsius vs. Fahrenheit

Back from Chicago, I kept wondering why the Imperial units and Fahrenheit are still used in the USA given the fact that they were imposed by the British and America fought 8 long years during the American Revolutionary War to get rid of British colonial rule. After defeating the oppressor, you usually get also rid of their symbols.

How Fahrenheit came to define the points on his scale always puzzled me. Whereas Celsius defined the temperature of freezing pure water 0°C and the temperature of pure boiling water 100°C and split everything in between in equal steps; Fahrenheit took the temperature of freezing water with a dose of, hopefully, only NaCl (sea salt) and called that 0°F. He then took as second point on his scale the temperature of freezing pure water and called that 32°F. Finally, he took his own body temperature and called that 96°F. 32? 96? Rather arbitrary values. You just feel that he struggled to arrive at a credible answer and that he just came up with those points retroactively to make it work.  ;-)