A refractometer is a device that can be used to measure the index of refraction of various materials. This device works according to the optical principle that when light passes through a material, it changes its angle depending on its density. This is called refraction.
You can use a refractometer to look at various samples of liquids that can have different compounds such as proteins, sugars, or salts. The light will bend at a specific angle and fall on a scale that you can read by looking through an eyepiece. You can then use the data to calculate the specific gravity of a particular compound and then figure out how much of it is in the mixture.
There are many applications for this device, from laboratory experiments to industrial processes to even home use. Here are a few things you can do with a refractometer, as well as reasons why you should probably own one.
Brew the perfect beer
You can use a good refractometer for brewing to measure the concentration sugars in beer wort. The beer wort is the aromatic mixture of sugars which were broken down by enzymes from starches. You want to measure the amount of sugars in the wort before it starts fermenting so that you know how much is going to get converted into alcohol.
By measuring wort with a refractometer, you can also control other aspects of the beer besides alcohol concentration, such as flavors, consistency and texture, color, etc.
You can get a brewing refractometer that can measure samples in Brix units, which are specific to the wine brewing industry. However, since beer doesn’t have sucrose as wine does, but maltose, you will need to do some math and calculate the specific gravity of the sugars you’re trying to measure so that you can control the fermentation process and obtain quality beer.
Check the salinity of water in your fish tank
If you’re trying to recreate a seawater environment for your marine fish and invertebrate species, then maintaining the proper salinity is vital to ensure that your little inhabitants don’t just survive, but thrive.
Both hyposaline and hypersaline environments can harm your species and be unsuitable for maintaining a marine habitat in the long term. This is why it is important that you can constantly check the salinity of the water and make adjustments to maintain a stable level in your aquarium.
The good news is that you can use a refractometer to get an accurate reading of the specific gravity of water and do some calculations to get the actual salinity levels. While hydrometers can also be used for such purposes, they need larger samples, and they cannot be calibrated, so you’ll get more accurate readings with a refractometer as long as you remember to calibrate it.
Make high-quality animal glue
While glue made of animal parts such as hide or bones hasn’t been really popular in the past few centuries, it has seen a reemergence among people who work with quality wood or who restore paintings and other artifacts.
Just as an expert woodworker put it, animal glue is easier to work with, and it won’t swell the joints just like commercial glue, where you often need to use a hammer to get two parts together. Instead, animal glue acts as a lube until it dries, making it easy to work not only with wood, but with glass, and a variety of other materials.
The great part about having a refractometer is that you can check the glue-to-water ratio when making glue at home to ensure that you can get quality results consistently. This is important because you and other people who will use the glue want to get some predictability in their craft.
Use a refractometer in a laboratory
Whether you have a small laboratory at home or work in a large institution, refractometers are indispensable tools that can be used for a variety of purposes and experiments. With a refractometer, you can measure the total amount of proteins in plasma, or measure the specific gravity of urine to check for drugs or other substances.
There are loads of experiments where you need to check for the concentration of various compounds, from specific sugars to proteins to DNA, or you can also use it to study gemstones.
You can check crop yield and quality
You can use a refractometer to measure the amount of solids in plant sap. You can obtain sap from plant tissue and then measure the amount of nutrients in it. The values you obtain can give you an idea of yield potential as well as give you warning signs if the plants might be affected by pests such as fungi or insects so that you can take the appropriate safety measures.
You can also monitor the concentration of various compounds such as Calcium in crop tissue, boron, as well as other indicators that could help you better manage your crops.
Measure the water content in honey
With an effective honey refractometer, beekeepers can check the water concentration in honey. Too much water can cause the honey to ferment, which is the last thing a prospective beekeeper wants.
You can use a refractometer to check when the honey is ready for harvest, as well as to ensure different qualities for specific honey types by controlling the concentration of water between 10 and 20 percent and keep the honey fresh.
Get a modern device with extra functions
You can opt for a classic refractometer or for a modern variant that comes with a lot of features and functions. For example, there are refractometers that come with both Brix and specific gravity scales so you get SG values without any math in case you’re brewing beer.
You might also want to go for a model that features an automatic temperature compensation feature, as the refraction index also changes with temperature. That way you get accurate readings without extra work.
There are also digital refractometers you can look at. While less precise than their normal counterparts, these handheld devices can allow you to measure the amount of various materials on the go while also getting results on a large and clear LED display.