Differential scanning calorimetry

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Differential scanning calorimetry
Differential Scanning Calorimeter (TA Instruments Q100)
Classification Thermal analysis
Other Techniques
Related Isothermal titration calorimetry
Dynamic mechanical analysis
Thermomechanical analysis
Thermogravimetric analysis
Differential thermal analysis
Dielectric Thermal Analysis

Differential scanning calorimetry or DSC is a thermoanalytical technique in which the difference in the amount of heat required to increase the temperature of a sample and reference are measured as a function of temperature. Both the sample and reference are maintained at nearly the same temperature throughout the experiment. Generally, the temperature program for a DSC analysis is designed such that the sample holder temperature increases linearly as a function of time. The reference sample should have a well-defined heat capacity over the range of temperatures to be scanned. The basic principle underlying this technique is that, when the sample undergoes a physical transformation such as phase transitions, more (or less) heat will need to flow to it than the reference to maintain both at the same temperature. Whether more or less heat must flow to the sample depends on whether the process is exothermic or endothermic. For example, as a solid sample melts to a liquid it will require more heat flowing to the sample to increase its temperature at the same rate as the reference. This is due to the absorption of heat by the sample as it undergoes the endothermic phase transition from solid to liquid. Likewise, as the sample undergoes exothermic processes (such as crystallization) less heat is required to raise the sample temperature. By observing the difference in heat flow between the sample and reference, differential scanning calorimeters are able to measure the amount of heat absorbed or released during such transitions. DSC may also be used to observe more subtle phase changes, such as glass transitions. DSC is widely used in industrial settings as a quality control instrument due to its applicability in evaluating sample purity and for studying polymer curing.[1][2][3]

An alternative technique, which shares much in common with DSC, is differential thermal analysis (DTA). In this technique it is the heat flow to the sample and reference that remains the same rather than the temperature. When the sample and reference are heated identically phase changes and other thermal processes cause a difference in temperature between the sample and reference. Both DSC and DTA provide similar information; DSC is the more widely used of the two techniques.[1][2][3]

DSC curves

The result of a DSC experiment is a curve of heat flux versus temperature or versus time. There are two different conventions: exothermic reactions in the sample shown with a positive or negative peak; it depends by the different kind of technology used by the instrumentation to make the experiment. This curve can be used to calculate enthalpies of transitions. This is done by integrating the peak corresponding to a given transition. It can be shown that the enthalpy of transition can be expressed using the following equation:

where is the enthalpy of transition, is the calorimetric constant, and is the area under the curve. The calometric constant will vary from instrument to instrument, and can be determined by analyzing a well-characterized sample with known enthalpies of transition.[2]


Figure 3. A schematic DSC curve demonstrating the appearance of several common features

Differential scanning calorimetry can be used to measure a number of characteristic properties of a sample. Using this technique it is possible to observe fusion and crystallization events as well as glass transition temperatures (). DSC can also be used to study oxidation, as well as other chemical reactions.[1][2][3]

Glass transitions may occur as the temperature of an amorphous solid is increased. These transitions appear as a step in the baseline of the recorded DSC signal. This is due to the sample undergoing a change in heat capacity; no formal phase change occurs.[1][3]

As the temperature increases, an amorphous solid will become less viscous. At some point the molecules may obtain enough freedom of motion to spontaneously arrange themselves into a crystalline form. This is known as the crystallization temperature (). This transition from amorphous solid to crystalline solid is an exothermic process, and results in a peak in the DSC signal. As the temperature increases the sample eventually reaches its melting temperature (). The melting process results in an endothermic peak in the DSC curve. The ability to determine transition temperatures and enthalpies makes DSC an invaluable tool in producing phase diagrams for various chemical systems.[1]

DSC may also be used in the study of liquid crystals. As matter transitions between solid and liquid it often goes through a third state, which displays properties of both phases. This anisotropic liquid is known as a liquid crystalline or mesomorphous state. Using DSC, it is possible to observe the small energy changes that occur as matter transitions from a solid to a liquid crystal and from a liquid crystal to an isotropic liquid.[2]

Using differential scanning calorimetry to study the oxidative stability of samples generally requires an airtight sample chamber. Usually, such tests are done isothermally (at constant temperature) by changing the atmosphere of the sample. First, the sample is brought to the desired test temperature under an inert atmosphere, usually nitrogen. Then, oxygen is added to the system. Any oxidation that occurs is observed as a deviation in the baseline. Such analyses can be used to determine the stability and optimum storage conditions for a compound.[1]

DSC is widely used in the pharmaceutical and polymer industries. For the polymer chemist, DSC is a handy tool for studying curing processes, which allows the fine tuning of polymer properties. The cross-linking of polymer molecules that occurs in the curing process is exothermic, resulting in a positive peak in the DSC curve that usually appears soon after the glass transition.[1][2][3]

In the pharmaceutical industry it is necessary to have well-characterized drug compounds in order to define processing parameters. For instance, if it is necessary to deliver a drug in the amorphous form, it is desirable to process the drug at temperatures below those at which crystallization can occur.[2]

In food science research, DSC is used in conjunction with other thermal analytical techniques to determine water dynamics. Changes in water distribution may be correlated with changes in texture. Similar to material science studies, the effects of curing on confectionery products can also be analyzed.

DSC curves may also be used to evaluate drug and polymer purities. This is possible because the temperature range over which a mixture of compounds melts is dependent on their relative amounts. This effect is due to a phenomenon known as freezing point depression, which occurs when a foreign solute is added to a solution. (Freezing point depression is what allows salt to de-ice sidewalks and antifreeze to keep your car running in the winter.) Consequently, less pure compounds will exhibit a broadened melting peak that begins at lower temperature than a pure compound.[2][3]

In last few years this technology has been involved in metallic material study. The characterization of this kind of material with DSC is not easy yet because of the low quantity of literature about it. It is known that it is possible to use DSC to find solidus and liquidus temperature of a metal alloy, but the widest application is, by now, the study of precipitations, Guiner Preston zones, phase transitions, dislocations movement, grain growth etc.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Dean, John A. The Analytical Chemistry Handbook. New York. McGraw Hill, Inc. 1995. pp. 15.1–15.5
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Pungor, Erno. A Practical Guide to Instrumental Analysis. Boca Raton, Florida. 1995. pp. 181–191.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Skoog, Douglas A., F. James Holler and Timothy Nieman. Principles of Instrumental Analysis. Fifth Edition. New York. 1998. pp. 905–908.

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