Definitions

# Fahrenheit

[far-uhn-hahyt; Ger. fahr-uhn-hahyt]

Fahrenheit is a temperature scale named after Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686–1736), a German physicist who proposed it in 1724.

In this scale, the freezing point of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit (°F) and the boiling point 212 °F (at standard atmospheric pressure), placing the boiling and freezing points of water exactly 180 degrees apart. A degree on the Fahrenheit scale is 1/180th part of interval between the ice point and steam point or boiling point. On the Celsius scale, the freezing and boiling points of water are 100 degrees apart, hence the unit of this scale. A temperature interval of one degree Fahrenheit is an interval of of a degree Celsius. The Fahrenheit and Celsius scales coincide at −40 degrees (i.e. −40 °F and −40 °C describe the same temperature).

Absolute zero is −459.67 °F. The Rankine temperature scale was created to use degrees the same size as those of the Fahrenheit scale, such that a temperature difference of one degree Rankine (1 °R) is the same as a temperature difference of 1 °F, but with absolute zero being 0 °R.

## History

According to Fahrenheit himself in an article he wrote in 1724, he determined his scale by reference to three fixed points of temperature. The zero point is determined by placing the thermometer in a mixture of ice, water, and ammonium chloride, a salt. This is a type of frigorific mixture. The mixture automatically stabilizes its temperature at 0 °F. He then put an alcohol or mercury thermometer into the mixture and let the liquid in the thermometer descend to its lowest point. The second point is the 32nd degree found by putting the thermometer in still water as ice is just forming on the surface. His third point, the 96th degree, was the level of the liquid in the thermometer when held in the mouth or under the armpit. Fahrenheit noted that, using this scale, mercury boils at around 600 degrees. Later work by other scientists observed that water boils about 180 degrees higher than the freezing point and decided to redefine the degree slightly to make it exactly 180 degrees higher. It is for this reason that normal body temperature is 98.6 on the revised scale (whereas it was 96 on Fahrenheit's original scale).

According to a letter Fahrenheit wrote to his friend Herman Boerhaave, his scale built on the work of Ole Rømer, whom he had met earlier. In Rømer’s scale, the two fixed reference points are that brine also freezes at 0 degrees and water boils at 60 degrees. He observed that, on this scale, water freezes at 7.5 degrees. Fahrenheit multiplied each value by four in order to eliminate the fractions and increase the granularity of the scale (resulting in 30 and 240 degrees). He then re-calibrated his scale between the freezing point of water and normal human body temperature (which he observed to be 96 degrees); he adjusted the scale so that the melting point of ice would be 32 degrees, so that 64 intervals would separate the two, allowing him to mark degree lines on his instruments by simply bisecting the interval six times (since 64 is 2 to the sixth power).

## Usage

The Fahrenheit scale was the primary temperature standard for climatic, industrial and medical purposes in most English-speaking countries until the 1960s. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the Celsius (formerly Centigrade) scale was phased in by governments as part of the standardizing process of metrication. Only in the United States and a few other countries (such as Belize) does the Fahrenheit system continue to be the accepted standard for non-scientific use. Most other countries have adopted Celsius as the primary scale in all use. Fahrenheit is sometimes used by older generations in English speaking countries, especially for measurement of higher temperatures and for cooking.

## The special Unicode "℉" character

The Fahrenheit symbol has its own Unicode character: "℉" (U+2109). This is a compatibility character encoded for roundtrip compatibility with legacy CJK encodings (which included it to conform to layout in square ideographic character cells) and vertical layout. Use of compatibility characters is discouraged by the Unicode Consortium. The ordinary degree sign (U+00B0) followed by the Latin letter F (“°F”) is thus the preferred way of recording the symbol for degree Fahrenheit.

## Temperatures and intervals

As with the Celsius scale, the same symbol, "°", is used to denote both a point on the temperature scale, with a letter (C, F) indicating which scale is being used (e.g. "Gallium melts at 85.5763 °F") and to denote a difference between temperatures or an uncertainty of temperature (e.g. "The output of the heat exchanger is hotter by 72 °C," and "Our standard uncertainty is ±5.4 °C").

## References

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