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What is a Graduated Cylinder?

Aiden Ford, John Williams, Christianlly Cena
  • Author
    Aiden Ford

    Aiden Ford has taught Earth, Life and Physical Science for five years in grades 6-8. Aiden has a Bachelors of Arts in Human Ecology from the College of the Atlantic.

  • Instructor
    John Williams
  • Expert Contributor
    Christianlly Cena

    Christianlly has taught college Physics, Natural science, Earth science, and facilitated laboratory courses. He has a master's degree in Physics and is currently pursuing his doctorate degree.

Learn what a graduated cylinder is and what it is used for. Discover the different types of graduated cylinders, their unique characteristics, and their different uses and functions. Updated: 11/04/2021

What is a Graduated Cylinder

Scientists use many tools when investigating natural phenomena and exploring the world. When you think of a scientist, images of bubbling flasks and multi-colored beakers may come to mind. You may think of a chemist or even a mad scientist cooked up by Hollywood, mixing various liquids and running different experiments. Are those tools used in those classic images really what scientists today use in laboratories? Scientists use a wide range of tools when answering scientific questions, some of which are quite complex. This makes sense, seeing as how the world that scientists study is also quite complex! However, one of the most important tools in a scientist's lab is a simple one called a graduated cylinder. Let's take a closer look at this fundamental tool.

A graduated cylinder is a cylindrical tube used for measuring volumes of liquids. A volume of liquid is the amount of liquid an object can hold. Knowing the volume is important because many of the experiments scientists conduct involve accurately measuring liquids. Graduated cylinders are tall cylindrical beakers that hold a variety of liquids and come in many different sizes. They can also be made with various materials, which account for the many different types of liquids that can be used in experimentation. Although the graduated cylinder is by far the most common tool used to measure liquids, it is not completely accurate, and other tools are used, like volumetric flasks, when absolute precision is required.

Function of the Graduated Cylinder

There is a saying: 'You are only as good as your tools.' This is one of the most accurate statements when it comes to the field of science. Scientists use a variety of chemical, physical, and electronic equipment in order to investigate natural occurrences. Many of these tools are complex and very sophisticated. However, some of the more basic tools function on simple scientific principles. One of these tools, the graduated cylinder, is a key component of a scientist's arsenal. Let's discuss the functions and properties of the graduated cylinder and why it is so important for scientific discovery.

Scientists often have to use specific amounts of liquid in order to conduct experiments. Because these amounts must be accurate, it is important that a scientist have a method for measuring exact amounts. The graduated cylinder is used for measuring volumes (amounts) of liquids. This piece of equipment is used routinely, although it is only moderately accurate compared to other tools, such as volumetric flasks. Volumetric flasks are used when absolute precision (accuracy) is needed.

Graduated cylinders are also used to determine displacement, which is a measurement of the change in a volume of water when additional materials are added to it. This means that the volume of solid objects and non-aqueous (lacking water) solutions can be determined using a graduated cylinder.

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A typical graduated cylinder.

what is a graduated cylinder

Graduated Cylinder Uses

Graduated cylinders are used for measuring volumes of liquid. Scientists will pour the liquid into the graduated cylinder and view it at eye level, lining up the bottom of the meniscus of the liquid with the measurement lines on the side of the cylinder. The meniscus is the curved, dimpled shape made at the surface of the liquid as it fills a container. Different types of liquids will have different meniscus depths. For example, mercury and water have very deep meniscuses, while isopropyl alcohol has a relatively flat meniscus. The measurement must be taken at eye level, as the meniscus can look skewed when viewed from above or below.

Graduated cylinders can also be used to measure displacement of solid or non-aqueous liquids that do not contain water. Displacement is the amount of water displaced when objects are added to the liquid, thus measuring the volume of the object or objects added. This is done by measuring the volume of liquid, usually water, before the object is added and after the object is added. Then, simply subtract the smaller amount from the larger amount, which is the object's volume.

Graduated cylinders are used for measuring approximate volume or volume when absolute precision is not necessary. For absolute precision, scientists use a volumetric flask tool, or volumetric glassware, which has a flat bulbed bottom, a thin neck, and a stopper. Think of your typical potion bottle. Beakers are another common laboratory tool that looks very similar to graduated cylinders. Beakers have wider diameters, and although they usually have measurement markings on the side, there are usually fewer of them available because they are used for mixing solutions, not measuring precise volumes.

This is a volumetric flask, used to measure volume when absolute precision is needed.

volumetric flask, lab tools

Graduated Cylinders of Different Sizes
graduated cylinder

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Video Transcript

Function of the Graduated Cylinder

There is a saying: 'You are only as good as your tools.' This is one of the most accurate statements when it comes to the field of science. Scientists use a variety of chemical, physical, and electronic equipment in order to investigate natural occurrences. Many of these tools are complex and very sophisticated. However, some of the more basic tools function on simple scientific principles. One of these tools, the graduated cylinder, is a key component of a scientist's arsenal. Let's discuss the functions and properties of the graduated cylinder and why it is so important for scientific discovery.

Scientists often have to use specific amounts of liquid in order to conduct experiments. Because these amounts must be accurate, it is important that a scientist have a method for measuring exact amounts. The graduated cylinder is used for measuring volumes (amounts) of liquids. This piece of equipment is used routinely, although it is only moderately accurate compared to other tools, such as volumetric flasks. Volumetric flasks are used when absolute precision (accuracy) is needed.

Graduated cylinders are also used to determine displacement, which is a measurement of the change in a volume of water when additional materials are added to it. This means that the volume of solid objects and non-aqueous (lacking water) solutions can be determined using a graduated cylinder.

Graduated Cylinders of Different Sizes
graduated cylinder

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  • Activities
  • FAQs

True or False Activity

This activity will help you assess your knowledge of the uses and function of graduated cylinders.

Guidelines

For this activity, print or copy this page on a blank piece of paper. Read each statement carefully. Write TRUE if the statement is valid and FALSE if otherwise. Neatly write your answers on the appropriate blank space provided.


__________ 1. A spout is included in a graduated cylinder's design for easy pouring of what's inside it.

__________ 2. Graduated cylinders are used when absolute precision is sought after.

__________ 3. The graduated cylinder is used for measuring the volume of liquids in an experiment.

__________ 4. Replacement is the measurement of the change in the volume of water when materials are added to it.

__________ 5. Graduated cylinders have a universal single size.

__________ 6. The glass cylinder offers transparency in allowing light to pass through the liquid being measured.

__________ 7. The volume of objects that lack gaseous properties that are referred to as non-aqueous can also be measured in the graduated cylinder.


Answer Key

1. TRUE

2. FALSE

Volumetric flasks are used when absolute precision is needed.

3. TRUE

4. FALSE

The measurement of the change in water volume is called displacement.

5. FALSE

Graduated cylinders come in different sizes and volume measurements.

6. TRUE

7. FALSE

Non-aqueous materials are those that lack water.

What is an example of a graduated cylinder?

A graduated cylinder is any transparent measuring tool that is uniformly cylindrical and measures volume with horizontal mL markings. Graduated cylinders are usually transparent and are very common lab tools.

What are graduated cylinders used for in biology?

Graduated cylinders are used in biology and other science fields to measure the volume of various liquids. Graduated cylinders are also used to measure the volume of solids using displacement.

What does a graduated cylinder mean?

Graduated cylinders are lab tools used for measuring volumes of liquids or solids using displacement. They are made of glass or plastic, are tall and uniformly cylindrical.

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