Exhibit 2008--The Matter of Fact

**Curated by Prof. Jimena Canales and the students in her HS 126 course. (See the instruments in this collection for the students' individual contributions.)**

While the word “fact” comes from the Latin factum a noun derived from facere which means to do or to make, this exhibit explores why in modern usage this term often conveys the opposite: facts are not made but they are "out there”. What is the relation between scientific facts and the instruments that are used to produce them? What is a fact? The Matter of Fact temporary exhibit analyzes important facts of nature and the instruments associated with the discovery, invention or maintenance of facts. We look at how scholars have dealt with questions of fact in the past and how they can still provide us with tools for thinking about them. Some famous facts, and some famous arguments for or against them, serve as the backdrop for each of the original contributions to the exhibit.

Fact (1): Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius
Almost all thermometers show that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius (or its equivalent of 212 degrees Fahrenheit). But what happens if you mix equal amounts of freezing water (0 degrees) and boiling water (100 degrees)? If the “capacity of water for receiving heat,
continues permanent at all temperatures between freezing and boiling points” then we can assume that a thermometer should read 50 degrees. Yet different thermometers give different values: while mercury thermometers generally give 50 degrees, alcohol ones give approximately 44, and water ones can give as little as 26. Does this mean that the mercury thermometer is the most accurate? Or does it mean that the real temperature of the mixture is not necessarily “halfway” between freezing and boiling?

Spring 2008
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