Meniscus

Meniscus

[mi-nis-kuhs]
For other uses, see: meniscus (anatomy) and lens (optics).

Meniscus, plural: menisci, from the Greek for "crescent", is a curve in the surface of a liquid and is produced in response to the surface of the container or another object. It can be either concave or convex. A convex meniscus occurs when the molecules have a stronger attraction to each other than to the container. This may be seen between mercury and glass in barometers. Conversely, a concave meniscus occurs when the molecules of the liquid attract those of the container. This can be seen between water and glass. Capillary action acts on concave menisci to pull the liquid up, and on convex menisci to pull the liquid down. This phenomenon is important in transpirational pull in plants. Honey, water, milk etc. have a lower meniscus. When a tube of a narrow bore, often called a capillary tube, is dipped into a liquid and the liquid “wets” the tube (with zero contact angle), the liquid surface inside the tube forms a concave meniscus, which is a virtually spherical surface having the same radius, r, as the inside of the tube. The tube experiences a downward force of magnitude 2πrdσ. Mercury etc. have an upper convex meniscus.

When reading a scale on the side of a container filled with liquid, the meniscus must be taken into account in order to obtain a precise measurement. Manufacturers take the meniscus into account and calibrate their measurement marks relative to the resulting meniscus. The measurement is taken with the meniscus at eye level to eliminate parallax error, and at the central point of the curve of the meniscus, i.e. the top of the meniscus, in the unusual case of a liquid like mercury, or more usually, the bottom of the meniscus in water and most other liquids.

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