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4
CALIBRATION

consideration. The most convenient arrangement on the decimal system for purposes of calibration is to have the units, tens, hundreds, &c., arranged in groups of four adjusted in the proportion of the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4. The relative values of the weights in each group of four can then be determined by substitution independently of the others, and the total of each group of four, making ten times the unit of the group, can be compared with the smallest weight in the group above. This gives a sufficient number of equations to determine the errors of all the weights by the method of substitution in a very simple manner. A number of other equations can be obtained by combining the different groups in other ways, and the whole system of equations may then be solved by the method of least squares; but the equations so obtained are not all of equal value, and it may be doubted whether any real advantage is gained in many cases by the multiplication of comparisons, since it is not possible in this manner to eliminate constant errors or personal equation, which are generally aggravated by prolonging the observations. A common arrangement of the weights in each group on the decimal system is 5, 2, 1, 1, or 5, 2, 2, 1. These do not admit of the independent calibration of each group by substitution. The arrangement 5, 2, 1, 1, 1, or 5, 2, 2, 1, 1, permits independent calibration, but involves a larger number of weights and observations than the 1, 2, 3, 4, grouping. The arrangement of ten equal weights in each group, which is adopted in “dial” resistance-boxes, and in some forms of chemical balances where the weights are mechanically applied by turning a handle, presents great advantages in point of quickness of manipulation and ease of numeration, but the complete calibration of such an arrangement is tedious, and in the case of a resistance-box it is difficult to make the necessary connexions. In all cases where the same total can be made up in a variety of ways, it is necessary in accurate work to make sure that the same weights are always used for a given combination, or else to record the actual weights used on each occasion. In many investigations where time enters as one of the factors, this is a serious drawback, and it is better to avoid the more complicated arrangements. The accurate adjustment of a set of weights is so simple a matter that it is often possible to neglect the errors of a well-made set, and no calibration is of any value without the most scrupulous attention to details of manipulation, and particularly to the correction for the air displaced in comparing weights of different materials. Electrical resistances are much more difficult to adjust owing to the change of resistance with temperature, and the calibration of a resistance-box can seldom be neglected on account of the changes of resistance which are liable to occur after adjustment from imperfect annealing. It is also necessary to remember that the order of accuracy required, and the actual values of the smaller resistances, depend to some extent on the method of connexion, and that the box must be calibrated with due regard to the conditions under which it is to be used. Otherwise the method of procedure is much the same as in the case of a box of weights, but it is necessary to pay more attention to the constancy and uniformity of the temperature conditions of the observing-room.

Method of Equal Steps.—In calibrating a continuous scale divided into a number of divisions of equal length, such as a metre scale divided in millimetres, or a thermometer tube divided in degrees of temperature, or an electrical slide-wire, it is usual to proceed by a method of equal steps. The simplest method is that known as the method of Gay Lussac in the calibration of mercurial thermometers or tubes of small bore. It is essentially a method of substitution employing a column of mercury of constant volume as the gauge for comparing the capacities of different parts of the tube. A precisely similar method, employing a pair of microscopes at a fixed distance apart as a standard of length, is applicable to the calibration of a divided scale. The interval to be calibrated is divided into a whole number of equal steps or sections, the points of division at which the corrections are to be determined are called points of calibration.

Calibration of a Mercury Thermometer.—To facilitate description, we will take the case of a fine-bore tube, such as that of a thermometer, to be calibrated with a thread of mercury. The bore of such a tube will generally vary considerably even in the best standard instruments, the tubes of which have been specially drawn and selected. The correction for inequality of bore may amount to a quarter or half a degree, and is seldom less than a tenth. In ordinary chemical thermometers it is usual to make allowance for variations of bore in graduating the scale, but such instruments present discontinuities of division, and cannot be used for accurate work, in which a finely-divided scale of equal parts is essential. The calibration of a mercury thermometer intended for work of precision is best effected after it has been sealed. A thread of mercury of the desired length is separated from the column. The exact adjustment of the length of the thread requires a little manipulation. The thermometer is inverted and tapped to make the mercury run down to the top of the tube, thus collecting a trace of residual gas at the end of the bulb. By quickly reversing the thermometer the bubble passes to the neck of the bulb. If the instrument is again inverted and tapped, the thread will probably break off at the neck of the bulb, which should be previously cooled or warmed so as to obtain in this manner, if possible, a thread of the desired length. If the thread so obtained is too long or not accurate enough, it is removed to the other end of the tube, and the bulb further warmed till the mercury reaches some easily recognized division. At this point the broken thread is rejoined to the mercury column from the bulb, and a microscopic bubble of gas is condensed which generally suffices to determine the subsequent breaking of the mercury column at the same point of the tube. The bulb is then allowed to cool till the length of the thread above the point of separation is equal to the desired length, when a slight tap suffices to separate the thread. This method is difficult to work with short threads owing to deficient inertia, especially if the tube is very perfectly evacuated. A thread can always be separated by local heating with a small flame, but this is dangerous to the thermometer, it is difficult to adjust the thread exactly to the required length, and the mercury does not run easily past a point of the tube which has been locally heated in this manner.

Having separated a thread of the required length, the thermometer is mounted in a horizontal position on a suitable support, preferably with a screw adjustment in the direction of its length. By tilting or tapping the instrument the thread is brought into position corresponding to the steps of the calibration successively, and its length in each position is carefully observed with a pair of reading microscopes fixed at a suitable distance apart. Assuming that the temperature remains constant, the variations of length of the thread are inversely as the variations of cross-section of the tube. If the length of the thread is very nearly equal to one step, and if the tube is nearly uniform, the average of the observed lengths of the thread, taking all the steps throughout the interval, is equal to the length which the thread should have occupied in each position had the bore been uniform throughout and all the divisions equal. The error of each step is therefore found by subtracting the average length from the observed length in each position. Assuming that the ends of the interval itself are correct, the correction to be applied at any point of calibration to reduce the readings to a uniform tube and scale, is found by taking the sum of the errors of the steps up to the point considered with the sign reversed.

Table I.Calibration by Method of Guy Lussac.
No. of Step. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
 Ends of thread. +.010 −.016 −.020 −.031 +.016 +.008 +.013 +.017 +.004 −.088
+.038 +.017 −.003 −.022 +.010 +.005 +.033 +.018 +.013 −.003
 Excess length. –.028 –.033 –.017 –.009 +.006 –.003 –.020 –.001 –.004 +.005
 Error of step. –17.6 –22.6 –6.6 +1.4 +16.4 +7.4 –9.6 +9.4 +6.4 +15.4
 Correction. +17.6 +40.2 +46.8 +45.4 +29.0 +21.6 +31.2 +21.8 +15.4 0

In the preceding example of the method an interval of ten degrees is taken, divided into ten steps of 1° each. The distances of the ends of the thread from the nearest degree divisions are estimated by the aid of micrometers to the thousandth of a degree. The error of any one of these readings probably does not exceed half a thousandth, but they are given to the nearest thousandth only. The excess length of the thread in each position over the corresponding degree is obtained by subtracting the second reading from the first. Taking the average of the numbers in this line, the mean excess-length is −10.4 thousandths. The error of each step is found by subtracting this mean from each of the numbers in the previous line. Finally, the corrections at each degree are obtained by adding up the errors of the steps and changing the sign. The errors and corrections are given in thousandths of 1°.

Complete Calibration.—The simple method of Gay Lussac does very well for short intervals when the number of steps is not excessive, but it would not be satisfactory for a large range owing to the accumulation of small errors of estimation, and the variation of the personal equation. The observer might, for instance, consistently over-estimate the length of the thread in one half of the tube, and under-estimate it in the other. The errors near the middle of the range would probably be large. It is evident that the correction at the middle point of the interval could be much more accurately determined by using a thread equal to half the length of the interval. To minimize the effect of these errors of estimation, it is usual to employ threads of different lengths in calibrating the same interval, and to divide up the fundamental interval of the thermometer into a number of subsidiary sections for the purpose of calibration, each of these sections being treated as a step in the calibration of the fundamental interval. The most symmetrical method of calibrating a section, called by C. E. Guillaume a “Complete Calibration,” is to use threads of all possible lengths which are