Anders Celsius: Biography, Facts & Inventions

Instructor: Nicholas Pieri

Nicholas holds a BS in Geology and a master's degree in education. He has taught secondary Earth space science.

In this article, we will look at the life of Anders Celsius. A great Swedish astronomer, Anders Celsius is known today mostly for his creation of the temperature scale which bares his name.

The Swedish Scientist Who Changed Our Notion of Temperature

Before Fahrenheit, Kelvin, and Celsius, there were no standard scales for measuring temperature. Some early scientists created temperature scales based on the differences between iced salt water and the temperature of the human body. Other scales utilized the bottom of a well and the melting point of butter as fixed points of reference. Of course, the problem with using multiple scales for temperature is that data can not be shared and interpreted with anyone using a scale different from your own. A reliable physical process was needed to produce a fixed temperature scale. Swedish scientist Anders Celsius addressed this issue in a rather simple way and forever changed the way we talk about temperature.


Anders Celsius
Anders Celsius

Born in Uppsala, Sweden on the 27th of November, 1701, Anders Celsius was destined to become a scientist. His father, Nils Celsius was an astronomy professor at Uppsala University. Anders was also the grandson of respected Swedish astronomers Magnus Celsius and Anders Spole. From an early age, Anders Celsius excelled in mathematics. He chose to study at Uppsala University where he too would eventually become a professor of astronomy in 1730. Anders Celsius was also secretary of the prestigious Royal Society of Sciences from 1725 until his death. Afflicted by tuberculosis, Anders died at the young age of 42 in April of 1744. He is buried next to his grandfather Magnus Celsius in the church of Gamla Uppsala.

Uppsala Sweden
Uppsala Sweden

Scientific Accomplishments

Today, Anders Celsius is best known for his work regarding the temperature scale which now bears his name, but he accomplished much more in his field. He spent several years studying the aurora borealis in an attempt to identify the phenomenon's origin. After observing how a compass needle is deflected during aurora events, he correctly theorized a connection between aurora events and the Earth's magnetic field.

Aurora Borealis
Aurora Borealis

Anders Celsius gained notoriety after returning from an expedition led by French mathematician Pierre Louis Maupertuis in 1736. The expedition took measurements which confirmed previous theories that the Earth was not a perfect sphere, but an ellipsoid. This finding won the respect of Swedish authorities allowing Celsius to request the construction of a state of the art observatory in Uppsala which would become the Uppsala Astronomical Observatory in 1741.

Creating a Standard Temperature Scale

As Anders Celsius began to address the issue of a standardized temperature scale, he decided that using the freezing and boiling points of water as fixed points to base his scale on. He was not the first to use these fixed points for a temperature scale, but he set out define an international temperature scale on scientific grounds. In his paper, Observations of two persistent degrees on a thermometer, Celsius describes experiments conducted to show the freezing point of water is independent of one's position on Earth and atmospheric pressure. He also showed how water's boiling point depends on atmospheric pressure and provided accurate ways to calibrate the thermometer when recording temperatures outside of standard atmospheric pressures.

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