University of Virginia
Physics Department

Determining Absolute Zero

A Physical Science Activity

Student Activity




  1. Place 2 beakers of water on hot plate. Leave one on long enough to get warm water and leave the other on long enough to begin boiling.
  2. Fill a third beaker with room temperature/cool water and a fourth with cool water and ice.
  3. While water is warming up, set up the CBL, calculator, and other equipment as in the following figure.

  4. Connect the CBL and TI-83 calculator with the black link cable. Use the piece of tubing to connect the syringe to the pressure sensor and the CBL DIN adapter to connect the pressure sensor to the CBL. Open the blue valve on the pressure sensor to open the syringe to the outside air. Fill the syringe to 10cc of air and then turn the blue valve to close off the syringe to the outside air. Connect the pressure sensor to channel 2 (CH2). Connect the temperature probe to channel 1 (CH1) on the CBL. Attach the temperature probe to the syringe using the rubber bands or tape so that they will stay together when you are taking measurements.
  5. Once all of your equipment is connected, and the water baths have reached appropriate temperatures, begin the data collection program.
  6. Turn on the TI-83 calculator and the CBL. Press the PRGM button on the calculator to get a listing of your programs. Move your cursor or press the correct number to select the CHEMBIO program. Press ENTER again to start program. Follow the directions on the screen until you reach the main menu for the program.
  7. Choose SET UP PROBES from the list. The CBL screen should have three dashes across it (to signify communication between it and the calculator) and the calculator should then give you a prompt for the number of probes being used. In this case we are using the pressure and temperature probes, so we will press 2 and ENTER.
  8. Next you will need to select the correct probes and channel numbers. Remember the temperature probe is in CH1 and the pressure probe is in CH2.
  9. The stored calibration for the pressure sensor should work. If you are getting reasonable data, use it and ATM for the units. If you are getting bad data, you may need to calibrate the pressure sensor. Select the manual entry option. For atmospheres, the intercept is 0.729 and the slope is 0.271. If you wish to use a different unit, you can find the calibration numbers on the Vernier website (
  10. You should now be back at the main menu for the program. Now we want to choose COLLECT DATA and then choose MONITOR INPUT. At this point, both the CBL and calculator should be showing readings from the probes.
  11. Now we want to place the syringe and temperature probe into the first temperature bath. Start with the ice water because it is easier to warm up the temperature probe than it is to cool it down. Make sure you do not get the pressure probe itself wet. Just put the syringe into the water.
  12. Watch the readings on the calculator. Once they stabilize, record readings of temperature (in Celsius) and pressure in data table.
  13. After these numbers have been recorded, move the syringe to the room temperature/cool water bath. Again, wait for the readings to stabilize and record them in the data table. Repeat these steps for the warm water and boiling water baths.
  14. Once you have done all four baths, press the + button on the calculator to stop the readings. Disassemble and clean up all of your equipment.
  15. Convert temperature readings to Kelvin and record those in the data table.
  16. Make a graph of pressure (Y-axis) vs. Kelvin temperature (X-axis) and start at (0,0).
  17. Draw a line to best fit the shape of the graph. Continue this line so that it passes through a pressure reading of zero (crosses the x-axis). Read this temperature and record this as the value for absolute zero.


Data Sheet

Data Table 


Temperature (°C) CH1

Pressure (atm) CH2

Temperature (K)

Ice Water




Room Temp/Cool Water




Warm Water




Boiling Water




Absolute zero = ______________K