Thermoscope used by Joseph Black

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Postcard of Thermoscope used by Joseph Black.
© National Museums Scotland

Thermoscope used by Joseph Black

A thermoscope is a thermometer without a scale. This example may have been used in demonstrations by Professor Joseph Black (1728-99) at Edinburgh University. It was made in the late 18th century and is unsigned.

The instrument has a gilded glass sphere on the end of a glass tube. The sphere protrudes through a cork held in the neck of a glass bottle which contains shot. Air thermoscopes show changes in temperature by the expansion and contraction of air in a bulb causing the fall or rise of a liquid in the attached capillary tube.

As professor of chemistry, Black was interested in the nature of heat. Much of his research was done in Glasgow, where he introduced the term 'latent heat' into his lectures as early as 1757.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-100-044-110-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1858.275.9
Date: c. 1800
Late 18th century
What: Thermometer, air
Who: Edinburgh University (Owner)
Joseph Black (Possible owner)
Professor Gregory (Possible owner)
Professor Hope (Possible owner)
Where: Scotland
Description: One of a collection of apparatus and instruments from Edinburgh University used by Professors Black, Hope and Gregory - an air thermometer
  • Anderson, R. G. W., The Playfair Collection. Edinburgh: 1978, pp 86-7 
  • See also Guerlac, Henry, 'Joseph Black's Work on Heat' in Simpson, A.D.C., Joseph Black, 1728-1799, a Commemorative Symposium. Edinburgh: The Royal Scottish Museum, 1982 
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