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How to Make a Hygrometer: Sling Psychrometer

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Author: Beth Touchette

First of all, what is a hygrometer and why would you want to make one? A hygrometer is a tool used by meteorologists (scientists who study the weather) to measure how much moisture is in the air.

You might have heard an older person say “It’s the humidity, not the heat” on one of those days in early August when walking from the couch to the refrigerator is a major effort. Humidity is the amount of water vapor (moisture) in the air. We become exhausted on hot, humid days because we can’t sweat efficiently. The air is already so full of water, little sweat evaporates off our skin to cool us. Instead, we feel sticky and hot. On dry summer days, or in the desert, the temperature might be just as high, but we won’t feel as uncomfortable because the humidity is lower. Meteorologists created a term to describe quantitatively how full of water vapor the air called relative humidity. It is the ratio of the actual amount of water vapor in the air relative to the amount that could be there, at that temperature. If you ever have walked through fog, you have experienced 100 percent humidity. Humidity levels in the desert are often 10 percent. 

You are going to make a special type of hygrometer called a sling psychrometer. It is fairly easy to make, and you can use it to determine the relative humidity. After you get an outdoor relative humidity measurement, you can compare it with what local weathermen have calculated. 

Problem: How can humidity be measured?

Materials

  • Cotton gauze (the kind used in first aid kits)
  • Scissors
  • Small rubber band
  • ½ liter plastic soda bottle
  • Clear plastic strapping tape
  • Two identical red alcohol type Celsius thermometers (no mercury!)
  • Water
  • String
  • Safety goggles

Procedure

  1. Moisten a double layer of gauze with water.  
  2. Use the rubber band to cover the bulb of one of the thermometers with the gauze.
  3. Secure the thermometer with gauze on one side of the plastic bottle and the other thermometer to the opposite side, using multiple pieces of strapping tape. Make sure you can still see the numbers and red alcohol in the thermometer. Why is using a mercury thermometer a bad idea for your hygrometer?
  4. Tie an 18-inch piece of string onto the top of the bottle.
  5. Have a grown-up make sure that you have attached the thermometers and the string securely.
  6. Put on your safety goggles and clear the area.
  7. Holding tightly to the end of the string, spin the bottle around in a circle in the air for a minute.
  8. Immediately record the temperature at both thermometers.
  9. Find the difference between the two temperatures.  
  10. Use the table to determine the relative humidity.

Results

Results will vary depending on the weather conditions in your area. If you are comparing your results with those of your local meteorologists, make to do the experiment outside, because indoor humidity can be quite different than outdoor humidity. You should expect that the wet bulb temperature will always be lower than the dry bulb.

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