Caloric Definition


What is the definition of caloric? What is caloric theory and which scientists worked on it? Information on caloric.

Caloric DefinitionCALORIC, is a word widely used in the first half of the 19th century to refer both to a hypothetical substance closely related to heat and to certain theories about the nature of heat. The term is the English equivalent of calorique, which was coined by Guyton de Morveau in 1787 from the Latin color (heat).

Although modern science now treats heat as a secondary property arising from the rapid molecular motion of matter, most chemists and physicists during the late 18th and early 19th centuries maintained that heat, or caloric, was an1 independent entity, which, like a weightless fluid, flowed through all material objects. The chemist Antoine Lavoisier included caloric among his list of elements. Many scientists believed that particles of caloric mutually repelled one another and used this repulsion to explain the flow of heat from warm bodies to cold bodies and to explain the general dissipation of heat. The theory of caloric played a major role in the early development of thermodynamics.

The earliest important experimental refutation of the caloric theory was made by Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, in 1798. Noticing that an inexhaustible amount of heat was generated in the boring of cannon, Rumford argued that caloric could not be a substance since no substance could be indefinitely generated as heat seemed to be. Although most of his contemporaries disagreed with his analysis, several prominent physicists shared his suspicions of the caloric theory, especially Laplace, Thomas Young, and Humphry Davy. The caloric theory persisted until the 1860’s, when studies on the mechanical equivalent of heat and the conservation of energy firmly established the modern kinetic theory of heat.


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