Temperature Units: Converting Between Kelvins and Celsius

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  • 0:05 Introduction: Temperature
  • 2:02 Celsius Scale
  • 2:48 The Kelvin Scale
  • 3:35 Converting
  • 3:58 Sample Problem
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kristin Born

Kristin has an M.S. in Chemistry and has taught many at many levels, including introductory and AP Chemistry.

Have you ever wondered what the lowest possible temperature is? In this lesson, you will learn what temperature measures. You will also be introduced to the Kelvin scale (an absolute scale) and learn how it relates to the Celsius scale.

Introduction: Temperature

Johnny Dalton and his family are vacationing on Ideal Island, where all gas particles behave ideally. They move randomly and rapidly, and they don't interact with each other. They have elastic collisions, and they are point particles, meaning the individual particles don't have any volume.

Just like when you travel to a foreign country and have to use a different currency or different units to measure things, Johnny must use different units on Ideal Island. Today, we are going to discuss temperature and the temperature units that are used here on the island.

The particles in thermometer liquid spread out when exposed to heat.
Thermometer Particles

When you have a fever and you take your temperature, did you know that you are really just measuring how fast the particles in your body are traveling? You can think of a thermometer like a little particle speedometer: the faster the particles are moving, the greater the temperature. Temperature is defined as the measurement of the average kinetic energy of the particles in a substance. The hotter something is, the faster its particles are moving.

A normal bulb thermometer usually contains a red liquid in a reservoir at the bottom. When this bulb is touching something warm, the fast particles in the warm substance hit the particles in the glass (or whatever your thermometer is made out of), and that causes them to speed up - and then they hit the particles in the red liquid, causing them to speed up. When the particles in the red liquid speed up, they space themselves apart more, causing the liquid to expand. This liquid needs a place to go, and in a thermometer, there is no place to go but up!

The Celsius Scale

You may measure your temperature using the Fahrenheit scale, but the rest of the world uses the Celsius scale. If you know a temperature in Fahrenheit, you can convert it to Celsius using this equation: °C = (5/9)(F - 32) This equation is rarely used in chemistry because chemists use the Celsius scale for measuring temperature.

The Celsius scale was created using the freezing and boiling temperatures of water at sea level as a standard. 0 °Celsius (or 32 °Fahrenheit) is the freezing point of water, and 100 °Celsius (or 212 °Fahrenheit) is the boiling point of water at sea level. There are 100 divisions (or degrees) in between these two points, and each division represents a degree Celsius. Now, because you may not use the Celsius scale on a daily basis, you can use the following poem to remember the relative temperatures and their corresponding degrees: 30 is hot, 20 is nice, 10 is cold, and zero is ice.

This equation can be used to convert Fahrenheit measurements to Celsius.
Converting Fahrenheit to Celsius Equation

The Kelvin Scale

Normally in science, the Celsius scale is used. But on Ideal Island, a different scale is used: the Kelvin scale. The Kelvin scale is an absolute scale, meaning that 0 is the lowest temperature possible. If the temperature is a measure of the average kinetic energy of the particles in a substance, then the temperature where there is no molecular movement would be 0 kelvins (K), or absolute zero. Currently, this temperature only exists in theory; it has never been reached, but scientists have come extremely close.

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