How to Calibrate a Calorimeter

Calibrate your calorimeter to measure heat production or absorption.
••• lab image by Svetlana Gajic from

A calorimeter is a device that can measure the heat released or absorbed in a chemical reaction. An example of a simple calorimeter is a water-filled styrofoam cup that has a a partially enclosed cover. A thermometer is placed through the small opening to measure the change in water temperature. There are also more advanced types of calorimeters. Calibrating a calorimeter is relatively simple and can be done in a few steps.


    Measure the observed change in temperature with the actual shift in temperature that results from the transfer of heat. A simple way of doing this is to send a current through the calorimeter for a set amount of time.

    Write down the equation Q = I x V x T. I represents the current, T represents time and V represents voltage. Use this equation to calculate Q, which represents the amount of heat that is electrically given to the calorimeter following a reaction.

    Use the observed rise in temperature to compute the heat capacity of the calorimeter. This is also referred to as the calorimeter constant. The equation is as follows: C = Q / (change in temperature). You will have to input Q and the observed change in temperature to find out the calorimeter constant.

    Use the equation Q = C x (change in temperature when a substance is burned in the calorimeter). For the value of C, you can input the answer from step 3 . For the change in temperature, input the observed temperature change when the substance in question is burned in the calorimeter.

    Write down your answer. This represents the heat transfer of the reaction and this will help to calibrate the calorimeter. This represents the way a person can electrically calibrate a calorimeter.

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