What is a Calorimeter?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

As one of the devices used in the science of calorimetry, the calorimeter plays an important role in measuring heat capacity in a number of secure environments, as well as the physical changes that occur with the incidence of specific chemical reactions. The word is derived from the Latin term calor, which literally translates to "heat." While most people understand the concept of calories as they relate to weight gain or loss, fewer individuals are aware that calorie content is determined by the ability of the substance to generate heat or energy as a result of the consumption.

A calorimeter measures the amount of heat generated by a substance in calories.
A calorimeter measures the amount of heat generated by a substance in calories.

What the calorimeter actually does is identify the rate and scale of the production of that heat or energy and translate it into numerical designations that can be used to adequately measure the production and the assimilation of heat and energy. When thinking in terms of counting calories, therefore, what is actually happening is thinking in terms of how much heat and energy will be generated and expended as a result.

Calorie measurement has several important applications. One of the most common has to do with health matters. Because the calorie content of some foods is judged to be quite high, the result is that the energy or heat created by the consumption of the foods must make best use of that produced energy. If there is no efficient use of the calories, then the result is energy stored in the form of fat for later consumption. That is why the calorimeter is so important. Proper measuring of calories allows people to more properly plan their food intake to ensure that the body has enough heat or energy to function, but does not store excess energy as fat.

There are a number of different types of the measuring tools that help to measure energy and heat production, including differential scanning, accelerated rate, and isothermal calorimeters. Each of these are used in some way to measure calories within different environments. They may be used to note the change in temperature in a substance when a liquid is introduced, for example. Other factors, such as a change in weather conditions within the controlled environment, also yield data about the change in heat and energy production. All these types of research and scientific experiment help to refine the way the concept of calories are used within the scientific community as well as in industry and in daily life.

While the calorimeter is not a device that is found in the home, the ongoing investigation into the way specific heat capacities are determined does make an impact on the way people live, work, and eat. Use of these precise instruments help to make the science of energy and heat production and usage more efficient, as well as make the use of calories more productive for society in general.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


Calorimeters are also really useful in the science of fuel efficiency; this is how researchers of alternative fuel sources have found which alternative fuels actually use more energy than they produce, or only a small margin. Hopefully advances in calorimeters will also improve advances in fuel sources.


this article clearly helped me understand what a calorimeter was in order to get my project done.

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