What is a Goniometer?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2019
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Goniometers are essentially devices that are used in angle measurement. Various types of the goniometer are used in a number of different fields, including communications and physical therapy. The name for the device is understood to come from the union of two Greek words. Gonia, which is translated to mean angle, and metron, which is related to measure, provide the goniometer with a name that is both distinctive and also highly descriptive of the primary use.

While measurement usually involves calculating the dimensions of a physical object, there are also other forms of measurement that are used in a variety of applications. The goniometer proves to be a helpful device in many of these tasks. For example, the goniometer has been used in both civil and military operations as a means of finding the direction and angle related to signaling functions. By identifying and locking in on transmissions, the goniometer makes it possible to intercept a signal and hear the transmission. This has proven extremely helpful during wartime situations.


Along with use with various communications functions, the goniometer measures angles associated with crystallography. Essentially, this application involves usage of the device as a means to obtain angle measurements as they relate to the angles found in between crystal facings. This application helped to take the science of goniometry to new heights when the goniometer was utilized as part of the means of learning more about the atomic structure of crystals in the early years of the 20th century.

Because angle measurements are the key function of the goniometer, the device is ideal for use in the fields of physical therapy and occupational therapy. In both fields, there is a need to measure the range of motion associated with various joints and muscle groups. For example, a goniometer may be used to help determine the current status of the range of motion in bend the arm at the elbow, bending the knee, or bending at the waist. The device can help establish the range of motion at the beginning of the treatment series, and also allow the therapist to monitor progress during subsequent sessions.

Industry also relies on the use of goniometers as well. Newer technology that utilizes lasers as a means of cutting various materials for manufacturing purposes will often employ a goniometer to ensure the angle and length of a cut is within specifications. The contact angle goniometer can aid in quality control efforts, ensuring that any finished goods or products meet measurement and dimension requirements necessary for proper function of the products.

While many devices developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries are now obsolete, the goniometer has easily made the leap to the new millennium. Technology enhancements have allowed the device to continue to evolve and become a useful tool in many different applications. Relatively easy to operate in most situations, the goniometer is likely to be around as long as there is a need to measure the angle of just about anything.


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