27 August 2015

#96 Using respirometers

A respirometer is a device used to measure the rate of respiration of a living organism by measuring its rate of exchange of oxygen and/or carbon dioxide. They allow investigation into how factors such as age, chemicals or the effect of light affect the rate of respiration.

There are various different types of respirometer. One type is shown in the diagram.

Using a respirometer to measure the rate of uptake of oxygen

The organisms to be investigated are placed in one tube, and non-living material of the same mass in the other tube. Soda lime is placed in each tube, to absorb all carbon dioxide. Cotton wool prevents contact of the soda lime with the organisms.

Coloured fluid is poured into the reservoir of each manometer and allowed to flow into the capillary tube. It is essential that there are no air bubbles. You must end up with exactly the same quantity of fluid in the two manometers.

Two rubber bungs are now taken, fitted with tubes as shown in the diagram. Close the spring clips. Attach the manometers to the bent glasstubing, ensuring an airtight connection. Next, place the bungs into the tops of the tubes.

Open the spring clips. (This allows the pressure throughout the apparatus to equilibrate with atmospheric pressure.) Note the level of the manometer fluid in each tube. Close the clips. Each minute, record the level of the fluid in each tube.

As the organisms respire, they take oxygen from the air around them and give out carbon dioxide. The removal of oxygen from the air inside the tube reduces the volume and pressure, causing the manometer fluid to move towards the organisms. The carbon dioxide given out is absorbed by the
soda lime. The distance moved by the fluid is therefore affected only by the oxygen taken up and not by the carbon dioxide given out.

You would not expect the manometer fluid in the tube with no organisms to move, but it may do so because of temperature changes. This allows you to control for this variable, by subtracting the distance moved by the fluid in the control manometer from the distance moved in the experimental
manometer (connected to the Living organisms), to give you an adjusted distance moved.

Calculate the mean (adjusted) distance moved by the manometer fluid per minute. If you know the diameter of the capillary tube, you can convert the distance moved to a volume:

volume of liquid in a tube - length x πr2

This gives you a value for the volume of oxygen absorbed by the organisms per minute.

Using a respirometer to investigate the effect of temperature on the rate of respiration

The respirometer can be placed in water baths at different temperatures. You can use the same respirometer for the whole experiment. Or you could have different ones for each temperature. (In each case, there are difficulties with controlling some variables - you might like to think about what these are.) At each temperature, you need a control respirometer with no organisms in it.

If you are simply comparing the rates of respiration at different temperatures, then you do not need to convert the distance moved by the manometer fluid to a volume. You could just plot distance moved on the y-axis of your graph and time on the x-axis.

The rate of respiration is represented by the gradient of the graph.

Using a respirometer to measure RQ

For this, we need to know both how much oxygen is taken in, and how much carbon dioxide is given out.

Set up two respirometers as shown above. However, the second respirometer should also contain the same mass of live maggots (or whatever organism you are investigating) but should not contain soda lime. You could put some inert material into the tube (for example, the beads) instead of soda lime. The mass and volume of the inert material should be the same as the mass and volume of the soda lime.

This second tube is therefore just like the first one except that it does not contain soda lime. The carbon dioxide given out by the respiring organisms is therefore not absorbed.

The difference between the distance moved by the manometer fluid in the experimental tube and the distance moved in the control tube is therefore due to the carbon dioxide given out.

For example, if the respiratory substrate is carbohydrate, then the amount of carbon dioxide given out will equal the amount of oxygen taken in. The fluid in the control tube will not move, so y=O.

Syllabus 2016-2018 

12.2 Respiration

m)  carry out investigations, using simple  respirometers, to measure the effect of temperature on the respiration rate  of germinating seeds or small invertebrates


  1. the second organism in second tube also respires so doesnt intake of O2 affect this ?

  2. After searching for hours futile, at 11:49pm the night before the lab write-up is due, this post was like heaven!! Thanks much.

  3. this was great, thanks!

  4. really helpful!!

  5. Your notes are simple understandable by everyone and they contain desirable content,, so thankyou for that.

  6. Your notes are really good even they have made me to get the content .so thank you,,

  7. very helpful, thanks a lot.

  8. What are some limitations in the experiment?

  9. thank i love this

  10. thank uuuuuuuuuuu

  11. this was good and up to date

  12. Great notes! Thanks for sharing in neat and easy understand way!
    But it will be better if you put your name :) it helps with citation.
    Thanks for sharing <3

  13. Thank you very much as it helped me a lot to connect my exams

  14. hey, if I wanted to alter it to test anaerobic respiration, what should I use as an O2 absorbent?