Although extremely accurate results can be obtained in measuring the weights of minute objects, it is physically impossible to construct any balance perfect enough to yield absolutely accurate determinations. For example, the analytical balance, a type of equal-arm balance, is used for delicate weighing in quantitative chemical analysis and in preparing pharmaceutical prescriptions; it must be kept in a glass case, since its accuracy is easily affected by dust and moisture. A spring balance does not retain its accuracy permanently, for no matter how carefully it is handled, the spring very gradually uncoils even though its limit of elasticity has not been exceeded.
For ordinary purposes the errors are so small that they are considered insignificant, but in chemical analysis it has been necessary to develop methods by which they can be further minimized. A so-called torsion balance, which depends on the twisting of a wire or thread, is employed for weighing, but the term is commonly used to indicate a device for measuring minute electrical and magnetic forces.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.