There’s nothing like a period or two with an infrared camera to show students that heat is nothing more than electromagnetic radiation that’s out of the range of our eye’s ability to see. The problem is that these cameras have been out of the reach of all but the best funded schools, but Seek’s Thermal Camera is an attempt to level the science educational playing field with an inexpensive infrared camera that snaps onto a phone or tablet.
The tiny camera can be ordered in versions for an iPhone or iPad (with a Lightning plug) or an Android phone or tablet (with a micro-USB plug). It weighs half an ounce and once you install it on a phone or tablet you hardly know it’s there. Virtually identical, except in how they connect, the two cameras have a resolution of 206 by 156 pixels with a 36-degree field of view that senses infrared radiation with wavelengths from 7.2 to 13 microns.
Regardless of which version you get, they have two things in common: you can’t charge the phone or tablet while using the thermal camera and some larger cases will keep Seek’s plug from being inserted into the device. The camera itself is rugged with a magnesium shell and comes with a padded case. Just plug it into the phone or tablet and load the free app and you can show the class what heat looks like.
The device works with fourth or fifth generation iOS devices and phones and slates that use Android 4.3 or newer software. On the downside, it won’t work with Android 5.0 software and leaves PCs, Macs, Chromebooks and older devices out in the cold.
There’s one more quirk to Seek’s Android design. Because the micro-USB plugs used on Android systems go in only one way, phones such as the Nexus 5 or many Sony Xperia models will point the camera at the user. Great for a thermal selfie, this makes using it awkward to point the camera at objects of interest unless you get a $5 adapter cable that lets you aim the camera while looking at the screen.
Everything shows up on the device’s screen, although its resolution pales in comparison to the phone or tablet’s camera. You can see and record temperatures that range from -40- to 330-degrees Centigrade and the camera has a Chalcogenide lens that could be a science lesson in and of itself. One annoying feature is that the camera needs to periodically recalibrate itself and makes a clicking noise.
The software really brings out the best in the hardware with a simple interface that visually shows the thermal image and displays the high and low temperatures. Using a Nexus 7 slate, I spent two weeks exploring the world of heat. Happily, the software offers the choice of Fahrenheit and Centigrade units and at any point you can zoom in or out of the thermal image.
You can set a threshold temperature and easily record the scene with a screen shot. To compare what we see and what we can feel, you can drag a dividing line between the system’s built-in camera and Seek’s thermal one, making for a great split screen image of a flame, ice cube or even record the progress of an exothermic chemical reaction without using a thermometer.
A great science classroom resource for schools on a budget, the Seek Thermal Camera can show what’s hot and what’s not.
Seek Thermal Camera
+ Inexpensive infrared camera
+ Small and easy to use
+ iOS and Android versions
+ Good software
+ Centigrade or Fahrenheit units
- Some Android devices aim camera in wrong direction
- No PC or Mac apps