hydrometer (hĪdrŏmˈətər) [key], device used to determine directly the specific gravity of a liquid. It usually consists of a thin glass tube closed at both ends, with one end enlarged into a bulb that contains fine lead shot or mercury to cause the instrument to float upright in a liquid. In the glass tube is a scale so calibrated that the reading on it level with the surface of the liquid in which the hydrometer is floating indicates the number of times heavier or lighter the liquid is than water, i.e., the specific gravity of the liquid. The hydrometer is based on Archimedes' principle. The level at which the hydrometer floats depends only on the density of the liquid. Hence this level can be used to measure both the density and the specific gravity, which is proportional to it. Commercial hydrometers are usually calibrated for ordinary room temperature, which is taken to be 20°C (68°F), or for 4°C (39.2°F). Because of the variation in the depth to which the instrument sinks in heavy and in light liquids, one type is made for use in liquids more dense than water and another for use in those less dense than water. The so-called bulb hydrometer consists of a small commercial hydrometer contained in a larger glass tube into which the solution to be tested is drawn by the action of a rubber bulb. It is used to measure the specific gravity of the sulfuric acid solution in automobile batteries. The two Baumé hydrometers (invented by Antoine Baumé), one for specific-gravity determinations in liquids denser than water and the other for liquids less dense than water, are calibrated with the special Baumé scale (also constructed by him).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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