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A hydrometer is an instrument used to measure the specific gravity (or relative density) of liquids; that is, the ratio of the density of the liquid to the density of water.

A hydrometer is usually made of glass and consists of a cylindrical stem and a bulb weighted with mercury or lead shot to make it float upright. The liquid to be tested is poured into a tall jar, and the hydrometer is gently lowered into the liquid until it floats freely. The point at which the surface of the liquid touches the stem of the hydrometer is noted. Hydrometers usually contain a paper scale inside the stem, so that the specific gravity can be read directly. The scales may be Plato, Oechsle, or Brix, depending on the purpose.

Hydrometers may be calibrated for different uses, such as a lactometer for measuring the density (creaminess) of milk, a saccharometer for measuring the density of sugar in a liquid, or an alcoholometer for measuring higher levels of alcohol in spirits.

Contents

Principle

The operation of the hydrometer is based on the Archimedes principle that a solid suspended in a fluid will be buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced. Thus, the lower the density of the substance, the further the hydrometer will sink. (See also Relative density and hydrometers.)

History

An early description of a hydrometer appears in a letter from Synesius of Cyrene to Hypatia of Alexandria. In Synesius' fifteen letter, he requests Hypatia to make a hydrometer for him:[1]

The instrument in question is a cylindrical tube, which has the shape of a flute and is about the same size. It has notches in a perpendicular line, by means of which we are able to test the weight of the waters. A cone forms a lid at one of the extremities, closely fitted to the tube. The cone and the tube have one base only. This is called the baryllium. Whenever you place the tube in water, it remains erect. You can then count the notches at your ease, and in this way ascertain the weight of the water.

Ranges

In low density liquids such as kerosene, gasoline, and alcohol, the hydrometer will sink deeper, and in high density liquids such as brine, milk, and acids it will not sink so far. In fact, it is usual to have two separate instruments, one for heavy liquids, on which the mark 1.000 for water is near the top of the stem, and one for light liquids, on which the mark 1.000 is near the bottom. In many industries a set of hydrometers is used — covering specific gravity ranges of 1.0–0.95, 0.95–0.9 etc — to provide more precise measurements.

Scales

Modern hydrometers usually measure specific gravity but different scales were (and sometimes still are) used in certain industries. Examples include:

  • Baumé scale, formerly used in industrial chemistry and pharmacology
  • Brix scale, primarily used in fruit juice, wine making and the sugar industry
  • Oechsle scale, used for measuring the density of grape must
  • Plato scale, primarily used in brewing
  • Twaddell scale, formerly used in the bleaching and dyeing industries [2]

Commercial uses

A modern hydrometer in a sugar solution

Because the commercial value of many liquids, including sugar solutions, sulfuric acid, and alcohol beverages such as beer and wine, depends directly on the specific gravity, hydrometers are used extensively.

Lactometer

A lactometer (or galactometer) is a hydrometer used to test milk. The specific gravity of milk does not give a conclusive indication of its composition since milk contains a variety of substances that are either heavier or lighter than water. Additional tests for fat content are necessary to determine overall composition. The instrument is graduated into a hundred parts. Milk is poured in and allowed to stand until the cream has formed, then the depth of the cream deposit in degrees determines the quality of the milk. Another instrument, invented by Doeffel, is two inches long, divided into 40 parts, beginning at the point to which it sinks when placed in water. Milk unadulterated is shown at 14°.[3]

Alcoholometer

An alcoholometer is a hydrometer which is used for determining the alcoholic strength of liquids. It is also known as a proof and traille hydrometer. It only measures the density of the fluid. Certain assumptions are made to estimate the amount of alcohol present in the fluid. Alcoholometers have scales marked with volume percents of "potential alcohol", based on a pre-calculated specific gravity. A higher "potential alcohol" reading on this scale is caused by a greater specific gravity, assumed to be caused by the introduction of dissolved sugars. A reading is taken before and after fermentation and approximate alcohol content is determined by subtracting the post fermentation reading from the pre-fermentation reading. [4]

Saccharometer

A saccharometer is a hydrometer used for determining the amount of sugar in a solution. It is used primarily by winemakers and brewers,[5] and it can also be used in making sorbets and ice-creams.[6] The first brewers' saccharometer was constructed by John Richardson in 1784.[7]

It consists of a large weighted glass bulb with a thin stem rising from the top with calibrated markings. The sugar level can be determined by reading the value where the surface of the liquid crosses the scale. It works by the principle of buoyancy. A solution with a higher sugar content is denser, causing the bulb to float higher. Less sugar results in a lower density and a lower floating bulb.

Thermohydrometer

A thermohydrometer is a hydrometer that has a thermometer enclosed in the float section. For measuring the density of petroleum products, like fuel oils, the specimen is usually heated in a temperature jacket with a thermometer placed behind it since density is dependent on temperature. Light oils are placed in cooling jackets, typically at 15oC. Very light oils with many volatile components are measured in a variable volume container using a floating piston sampling device to minimize light end losses.

As a battery test it measures the temperature compensated specific gravity and electrolyte temperature.

Barkometer

A barkometer is calibrated to test the strength of tanning liquors used in tanning leather.[8]

Soil analysis

A hydrometer analysis is the process by which fine-grained soils, silts and clays, are graded. Hydrometer analysis is performed if the grain sizes are too small for sieve analysis. The basis for this test is Stoke's Law for falling spheres in a viscous fluid in which the terminal velocity of fall depends on the grain diameter and the densities of the grain in suspension and of the fluid. The grain diameter thus can be calculated from a knowledge of the distance and time of fall. The hydrometer also determines the specific gravity (or density) of the suspension, and this enables the percentage of particles of a certain equivalent particle diameter to be calculated.

See also

References

  1. ^ Taken from taken from the two-volume set of Letters, Essays and Hymns of Synesius translated by A. Fitzgerald, published by Oxford University Press in 1926 and 1930. Available on-line at: http://www.geocities.com/athens/acropolis/5164/synesius.html
  2. ^ http://chestofbooks.com/reference/Encyclopedia-Of-Practical-Receipts-And-Processes/Degrees-of-Baum-e.html
  3. ^ "The New Student's Reference Work/Lactometer - Wikisource". en.wikisource.org. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_New_Student%27s_Reference_Work/Lactometer. Retrieved 2009-10-11.  
  4. ^ "The dictionary of beer and brewing - Google Books". books.google.com. http://books.google.com/books?id=XRyxWu8rRnQC&pg=PA12&dq=Alcoholometer&lr=&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=Alcoholometer&f=false. Retrieved 2009-10-11.  
  5. ^ "Country house brewing in England ... - Google Books". books.google.com. http://books.google.com/books?id=vDEwIR0ZHGYC&pg=PA64&dq=Saccharometer&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=Saccharometer&f=false. Retrieved 2009-10-11.  
  6. ^ "Patisserie - Google Books". books.google.com. http://books.google.com/books?id=D6YuI15dT74C&pg=PA250&dq=Saccharometer&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=Saccharometer&f=false. Retrieved 2009-10-11.  
  7. ^ "Instruments of science: an ... - Google Books". books.google.com. http://books.google.com/books?id=1AsFdUxOwu8C&pg=RA1-PA312&dq=Saccharometer+John+Richardson&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=Saccharometer%20John%20Richardson&f=false. Retrieved 2009-10-11.  
  8. ^ Charles Thomas Davis, "The manufacture of leather: being a description of all of the processes for the tanning and tawing with bark, extracts, chrome and all modern tannages in general use". H. C. Baird & co., 1897. http://books.google.com/books?id=aS7QAAAAMAAJ&q=Barkometer&dq=Barkometer. Retrieved 2009-10-11.  

Sources


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From LoveToKnow 1911

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