Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mixed marriages

I'm in a mixed marriage, but it's probably not quite what you think.

My introductory chemistry class this year was about evenly divided between those who had a feel for the temperature in Fahrenheit1, and those who did in Celsius.  I'd ask whether some temperature we'd calculated was reasonable or not (typically in Celsius and often prefaced with "what is that roughly in Fahrenheit?") Half my classroom was then doing quick calculations in their heads (or digging out calculators), the other half rolling their eyes.

Last Friday Math Man and I were headed to see the new Star Trek movie the other night and he wondered how cold it was.  I looked at my dash, 16.5°.  My first thought was how can it be that cold? Oh. Right.

"The Boy set my car to metric," I explained to Math Man.  He spent enough time in Canada to be with the rolling eyes set in my class.

"Well, at least he didn't set it to Kelvin2," Math Man consoled.

"I would have been happier.  I have a better gut feeling for Kelvin than for Celsius," I sheepishly admitted, "300 K is a very warm room."

Math Man just looked at me.  He thought he knew what he was getting into when he made a mixed marriage.  It's just that he thought we were a Celsius-Fahrenheit couple, not a Celsius-Kelvin mix.

I am really a geek.  Sigh.

1.  If you've ever wondered what zero on the Fahrenheit scale corresponds to in nature, read about frigorific (yes, that is really a word) mixtures and what that might have to do with temperature scales on my other blog.
2.  For the non-geeky among my readers, Kelvin is an absolute temperature scale, where each degree is the same size as a Celsius degree, but where the starting temperature is absolute zero, the coldest it can be.3
3.  If you mess with quantum mechanics, you can get (slightly) colder than absolute zero.  Read about that here.

Photo is from the Science Museum of London via Wikimedia.


  1. Anonymous12:02 AM

    Why calculate? Do like we do up in the true north strong and free over here and check out There is a choice of F or C temps with a click of the mouse. ]

    Some of us never converted/calculated to the Celsius system -- we just went straight across and learned it. Grownups always want to figure out why something works instead of just learning to do it like our kiddos do.

    Enjoyed your article. Funny, I speak of kilograms and metres and then turn around and cite feet and inches.

    Cheers from Linda G (the Ignatian blog)

    1. Baby weights still come in pounds, too! At least the birth announcements we get from Canada...

  2. Anonymous9:01 AM

    And to confuse things further minus 40 C is 40 below F while O C is 32 F. So I just get a good converter online where you put in one number and click the box and up it pops. Never did understand the need for math. Linda G

  3. We are a funny bunch in Canada because we still talk abut buying meat by the pound and set the oven in Fahrenheit degrees but I set the thermostat in Celsius degrees. No consistency at all.

    1. It's funny what our touchstones are!! And how practical we are when it comes to units (even scientists...)

    2. Anonymous12:20 PM

      Yep and I still measure me in pounds and feet and inches. You calculte centimeters to inches by multiplying the centimeter by two point two (2.2)and you do same to convert pound to kgs too (pounds x 2.2 = kg). WriterLinda