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The Introduction of Self-Registering Meteorological Instruments   By: (1919-2004)

The Introduction of Self-Registering Meteorological Instruments by Robert P. Multhauf

First Page:

CONTRIBUTIONS FROM

THE MUSEUM OF HISTORY AND TECHNOLOGY:

PAPER 23

THE INTRODUCTION OF SELF REGISTERING

METEOROLOGICAL INSTRUMENTS

Robert P. Multhauf

THE FIRST SELF REGISTERING INSTRUMENTS 99

SELF REGISTERING SYSTEMS 105

CONCLUSIONS 114

The Introduction of SELF REGISTERING METEOROLOGICAL INSTRUMENTS

Robert P. Multhauf

The development of self registering meteorological instruments began very shortly after that of scientific meteorological observation itself. Yet it was not until the 1860's, two centuries after the beginning of scientific observation, that the self registering instrument became a factor in meteorology.

This time delay is attributable less to deficiencies in the techniques of instrument making than to deficiencies in the organisation of meteorology itself. The critical factor was the establishment in the 1860's of well financed and competently directed meteorological observatories, most of which were created as adjuncts to astronomical observatories.

THE AUTHOR: Robert P. Multhauf is head curator of the department of science and technology in the United States National Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

The flowering of science in the 17th century was accompanied by an efflorescence of instrument invention as luxurious as that of science itself. Although there were foreshadowing events, this flowering seems to have owed much to Galileo, whose interest in the measurement of natural phenomena is well known, and who is himself credited with the invention of the thermometer and the hydrostatic balance, both of which he devised in connection with experimentation on specific scientific problems. Many, if not most, of the other Italian instrument inventors of the early 17th century were his disciples. Benedetto Castelli, being interested in the effect of rainfall on the level of a lake, constructed a rain gauge about 1628. Santorio, well known as a pioneer in the quantification of animal physiology, is credited with observations, about 1626, that led to the development of the hygrometer.

Both of these contemporaries were interested in Galileo's most famous invention, the thermoscope forerunner of the thermometer which he developed about 1597 as a method of obtaining comparisons of temperature. The utility of the instrument was immediately recognized by physicists (not by chemists, oddly enough), and much ingenuity was expended on its perfection over a 50 year period, in northern Europe as well as in Italy. The conversion of this open, air expansion thermoscope into the modern thermometer was accomplished by the Florentine Accademia del Cimento about 1660.

Galileo also inspired the barometer, through his speculations on the vacuum, which, in 1643, led his disciple Torricelli to experiments proving the limitation to nature's horror of a vacuum. Torricelli's apparatus, unlike Galileo's thermoscope, represented the barometer in essentially its classical form. In his earliest experiments, Torricelli observed that the air tended to become "thicker and thinner"; as a consequence, we find the barometer in use (with the thermometer) for meteorological observation as early as 1649.[1]

The meetings of the Accademia terminated in 1667, but the 5 year old Royal Society of London had already become as fruitful a source of new instruments, largely through the abilities of its demonstrator, Robert Hooke, whose task it was to entertain and instruct the members with experiments. In the course of devising these experiments Hooke became perhaps the most prolific instrument inventor of all time. He seems to have invented the first wind pressure gauge, as an aid to seamen, and he improved the bathometer, hygrometer, hydrometer, and barometer, as well as instruments not directly involved in measurement such as the vacuum pump and sea water sampling devices. As in Florence, these instruments were immediately brought to bear on the observation of nature... Continue reading book >>




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