Deeper into Jeopardy! LI: Science – Final Jeopardy!

Final Jeopardy! category: SCIENCE (24-03-1997)

Final Jeopardy! clue: Not long after its development, Robert Boyle renamed the Torricellian Tube this

Correct response

The gist: And thus, most people probably haven’t heard of him. Evangelista Torricelli was an Italian Renaissance scientist and inventor who is credited with creating the world’s first barometer in 1643 (although the idea had been floating around Europe for a few years, including in the mind of Rene Descartes). The problem of the siphon had been puzzling thinkers since before Aristotle, and Galileo had recently proposed that a siphon worked by the force of a vacuum at one end pulling water forward. Torricelli, however, had a novel and radical interpretation of the mechanism. He suggested that atmospheric pressure – which most scientists at the time didn’t even think existed – was exerting pressure on the water in the container from which the siphon drew, thus pushing the water up through the siphon and out the other end. Turns out, he was right (or mostly right – there are other factors at work in siphons as well). With this insight, he was able to conceive of a method of measuring pressure by setting up a tube suspended with one end in a container of liquid, and observing how the height to which the liquid flowed up the tube changed over time – the very first, and simplest, barometer.


Schematic of a simple barometer – the liquid (mercury) in the tube rises to a different height as the pressure outside changes

The clue: Assuming you, like me, haven’t heard of a Torricellian Tube (since that would be a giveaway anyway), the big hint in this clue is the mention of Robert Boyle, the Irish scientist whose name is best known from Boyle’s Law that relates rising temperature and rising volume, and therefore pressure, in gases. Associating Boyle with gaseous pressure, and knowing a bit about how barometers work, is the way to get to the correct response for this one, although it seems like a pretty tough one (even for 1997, when they tended to be harder).

In Jeopardy!: Your handy barometer is in 21 regular clues plus this FJ! clue in the J!Archive. Surprisingly, only seven of them mention “pressure” as well, and there are no clues that boil down to “what does a barometer measure”? Torricelli gets six clues to his name, which is certainly more than I expected, but maybe I’m not giving him enough credit. Mercury, the liquid used in most Torricelli-type barometers, is in eight, and “aneroid,” the term for a barometer that doesn’t use liquid, is in five. Blaise Pascal gets himself two mentions, for his experiment proving that atmospheric pressure reduces as altitude increases.

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