(262) 877-3600

Thermal Analysis


Thermal analysis is the study where the properties of materials are studied as they change with temperature or time. Common instruments to measure these properties are listed below.


Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC)

DSC measures the energy absorbed or released from a sample as a function of time or a temperature profile. DSC is useful to make the measurements for melting points, heats of reaction, glass transition, and heat capacity

Differential Thermal Analysis (DTA)

DTA measures the temperature difference between a sample and an inert reference as a function of time or temperature. This method is similar to DSC but does not quantify energy measurements; often used for high temperature work. glass transitions, phase changes, and melting points can be measured.

Thermogravimetric Analysis (TGA)

TGA measures the change of weight of a sample as a function of a temperature profile. This method is useful for determining sample decomposition, oxidation or loss of solvent or water.

Thermomechanical Analysis (TMA)

TMA measures dimensional changes a function of time or temperature. Various probes are utilized to measure expansion, contraction, penetration, softening of the sample as well as glass transition.

Simultaneous Thermal Analysis (STA)

STA is the combination of DSC/DTA and TGA in a  single instrument or experiment.

Evolved gas analysis (EGA) 

Evolved gas analysis (EGA) is a method used to study the gas evolved from a heated sample that undergoes decomposition or desorption.  Typcally Mass Spec and FTIR instruments are used for this measurement.

Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC)

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 main application of DSC is in studying phase transitions, such as melting, glass transitions, or exothermic decompositions. These transitions involve energy changes or heat capacity changes that can be detected by DSC with great sensitivity.

Detection of phase transitions

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 less or more 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. It is widely used in industrial settings as a quality control instrument due to its applicability in evaluating sample purity and for studying polymer curing.

DSC curves

The result of a DSC experiment is a curve of heat flux versus temperature or versus time. 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 ΔH is the enthalpy of transition, K is the calorimetric constant, and A is the area under the curve. The calorimetric constant will vary from instrument to instrument, and can be determined by analyzing a well-characterized sample with known enthalpies of transition.

DSC Applications

  • · Glass transition
  • · Melting points
  • · Crystallization times and temperatures
  • · Heats of melting and crystallization
  • · Percent crystallinity
  • · Oxidative stabilities
  • · Compositional analysis
  • · Heat capacity
  • · Heats of cure
  • · Completeness of cure
  • · Percent cure
  • · Purities
  • · Thermal stabilities
  • · Polymorphism
  • · Heat set temperatures
  • · Recyclates or regrinds

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 Tg. DSC can also be used to study oxidation, as well as other chemical reactions.

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.

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 (Tc). 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 (Tm). 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.


Top: A schematic DSC curve of amount of energy input (y) required to maintain each temperature (x), scanned across a range of temperatures. Bottom: Normalized curves setting the initial heat capacity as the reference. Buffer-buffer baseline (dashed) and protein-buffer variance (solid).


The technique is widely used across a range of applications, both as a routine quality test and as a research tool. The equipment is easy to calibrate, using low melting indium for example, and is a rapid and reliable method of thermal analysis.

Liquid crystals

DSC is used in the study of liquid crystals. As some forms of matter go from solid to liquid they go 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.

Oxidative stability

Using differential scanning calorimetry to study the stability to oxidation 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 analysis can be used to determine the stability and optimum storage conditions for a material or compound.

Safety Screening

DSC makes a reasonable initial safety screening tool. In this mode the sample will be housed in a non-reactive crucible (often gold, or gold plated steel), and which will be able to withstand pressure (typically up to 100 bar). The presence of an exothermic event can then be used to assess the stability of a substance to heat. However, due to a combination of relatively poor sensitivity, slower than normal scan rates (typically 2-3 °/min – due to much heavier crucible) and unknown activation energy, it is necessary to deduct about 75-100 °C from the initial start of the observed exotherm to suggest a maximum temperature for the material. A much more accurate data set can be obtained from an adiabatic calorimeter, but such a test may take 2–3 days from ambient at a rate of a 3 °C increment per half hour.

Drug analysis

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.

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.

General chemical analysis

Freezing-point depression can be used as a purity analysis tool when analysed by Differential scanning calorimetry. This is possible because the temperature range over which a mixture of compounds melts is dependent on their relative amounts. Consequently, less pure compounds will exhibit a broadened melting peak that begins at lower temperature than a pure compound.

Food science

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 is used widely for examining polymers to check their composition. Melting points and glass transition temperatures for most polymers are available from standard compilations, and the method can show up possible polymer degradation by the lowering of the expected melting point, Tm, for example. Tm depends on the molecular weight of the polymer, so lower grades will have lower melting points than expected. The percentage crystallinity of a polymer can also be found using DSC. It can be found from the crystallisation peak from the DSC graph since the heat of fusion can be calculated from the area under an absorption peak.

Impurities in polymers can be determined by examining thermograms for anomalous peaks, and plasticisers can be detected at their characteristic boiling points.


In the 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.


Differential thermal analysis (DTA)

Differential thermal analysis is a thermoanalytic technique, similar to Differential Scanning Calorimetry DSC. In DTA, the material under study and an inert reference are made to undergo identical thermal cycles, while recording any temperature difference between sample and reference. This differential temperature is then plotted against time, or against temperature (DTA curve or thermogram). Changes in the sample, either exothermic or endothermic, can be detected relative to the inert reference. Thus, a DTA curve provides data on the transformations that have occurred, such as glass transitions, crystallization, melting and sublimation. The area under a DTA peak is the enthalpy change and is not affected by the heat capacity of the sample.

A DTA consists of a sample holder comprising thermocouples, sample containers, a ceramic or metallic furnace, a temperature programmer; and a recording system. The basic configuration is the two thermocouples are connected in a differential arrangement and connected to a high gain low noise differential amplifier. One thermocouple is placed in an inert material such as Al2O3, while the other is placed in a sample of the material under study. As the temperature is increased, there will be a brief deflection of the voltage if the sample is undergoing a phase transition. This occurs because the input of heat will raise the temperature of the inert substance, but be incorporated as latent heat in the material changing phase.

In today’s market most manufactures no longer make a DTA but rather have incorporated this technology into a Thermogravimetric analysis(TGA), which provides both mass loss and thermal information. With today’s advancements in software, even these instruments are being replaced by true TGA-DSC instruments that can provide the temperature and heat flow of the sample, simultaneously with mass loss.


A DTA curve can be used only as a finger print for identification purposes but usually the applications of this method are the determination of phase diagrams, heat change measurements and decomposition in various atmospheres.

DTA is widely used in the pharmaceutical and food industries

DTA may be used in cement chemistry, mineralogical research and in environmental studies.

DTA curves may also be used to date bone remains or to study archaeological materials.

Thermogravimetric Analysis (TGA)

Thermogravimetric analysis or thermal gravimetric analysis (TGA) is a type of testing that is performed on samples to determine changes in weight in relation to change in temperature. Such analysis relies on a high degree of precision in three measurements: weight, temperature, and temperature change. As many weight loss curves look similar, the weight loss curve may require transformation before results may be interpreted. A derivative weight loss curve can be used to tell the point at which weight loss is most apparent. Again, interpretation is limited without further modifications and deconvolution of the overlapping peaks may be required.

TGA is commonly employed in research and testing to determine characteristics of materials such as polymers, to determine degradation temperatures, absorbed moisture content of materials, the level of inorganic and organic components in materials, decomposition points of explosives, and solvent residues. It is also often used to estimate the corrosion kinetics in high temperature oxidation.

Simultaneous TGA-DTA/DSC measures both heat flow and weight changes (TGA) in a material as a function of temperature or time in a controlled atmosphere. Simultaneous measurement of these two material properties not only improves productivity but also simplifies interpretation of the results. The complementary information obtained allows differentiation between endothermic and exothermic events which have no associated weight loss (e.g., melting and crystallization) and those which involve a weight loss (e.g., degradation).



Thermogram of calcium oxalate

The analyzer usually consists of a high-precision balance with a pan (generally platinum) loaded with the sample. The pan is placed in a small electrically heated oven with a thermocouple to accurately measure the temperature. The atmosphere may be purged with an inert gas to prevent oxidation or other undesired reactions. A computer is used to control the instrument.

Analysis is carried out by raising the temperature gradually and plotting weight against temperature. The temperature in many testing methods routinely reaches 1000°C or greater, but the oven is so greatly insulated that an operator would not be aware of any change in temperature even if standing directly in front of the device. After the data is obtained, curve smoothing and other operations may be done such as to find the exact points of inflection.

A method known as hi-resolution TGA is often employed to obtain greater accuracy in areas where the derivative curve peaks. In this method, temperature increase slows as weight loss increases. This is done so that the exact temperature at which a peak occurs can be more accurately identified. Several modern TGA devices can vent burnoff to an infrared spectrophotometer to analyze composition.


Simultaneous Thermal Analysis (STA)

Simultaneous Thermal Analysis (STA) generally refers to the simultaneous application of Thermogravimetry (TGA) and Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) to one and the same sample in a single instrument. The test conditions are perfectly identical for the TGA and DSC signals (same atmosphere, gas flow rate, vapor pressure of the sample, heating rate, thermal contact to the sample crucible and sensor, radiation effect, etc.). The information gathered can even be enhanced by coupling the STA instrument to an Evolved Gas Analyzer (EGA) like Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) or Mass Spectometry (MS).

Thermomechanical Analysis (TMA)

Thermomechanical analysis (TMA) is the measurement of a change of a dimension or a mechanical property of the sample while it is subjected to a temperature ramp. Increased thermal vibrations produce thermal expansion characterized by the coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) that is the gradient of the graph of dimensional change versus temperature. CTE depends upon thermal transitions such as the glass transition. CTE of the glassy state is low, while at Tg increased degrees of molecular segmental motion are released so CTE of the rubbery state is high. Changes in an amorphous polymer may involve other sub-Tg thermal transitions associated with short molecular segments, side-chains and branches. The linearity of the sf-TM curve will be changed by such transitions. Other relaxations may be due to release of internal stress arising from the non-equilibrium state of the glassy amorphous polymer. Such stress is referred to as thermal aging. Other stresses may be as a result of moulding pressures, extrusion orientation, thermal gradients during solidification and externally imparted stresses.

Semi-crystalline polymers are more complex than amorphous polymers, since the crystalline regions are interspersed with amorphous regions. Amorphous regions in close association to the crystals or contain common molecules as tie molecules have less degrees of freedom than the bulk amorphous phase. These immobilised amorphous regions are called the rigid amorphous phase. CTE of the rigid amorphous phase is expected to be lower than that of the bulk amorphous phase. The crystallite are typically not at equilibrium and they may contain different polymorphs. The crystals re-organize during heating so that they approach the equilibrium crystalline state. Crystal re-organization is a thermally activated process. Further crystallization of the amorphous phase may take place. Each of these processes with interfere with thermal expansion of the material. The material may be a blend or a two-phase block or graft copolymer. If both phases are amorphous then two Tg will be observed if the material exists as two phases. If one Tg is exhibited then it will be between the Tg of the components and the resultant Tg will likely be described by a relationship such as the Fox or Kwei equations. If one of the components is semi-crystalline then the complexity of a pure crystalline phase and either one or two amorphous phases will result. If both components are semi-crystalline then the morphology will be complex since both crystal phases will likely form separately, though with influence on each other.

Crosslinking will restrict the molecular response to temperature change since degree of freedom for segmental motions are reduced as molecules become irreversibly linked. Crosslinking chemically links molecules, while crystallinity and fillers introduce physical constraints to motion. Mechanical properties such as derived from stress-strain testing are used to calculate crosslink density that is usually expressed and the molar mass between crosslinks (Mc). The sensitivity of zero stress TMA to crosslinking is low since the structure receives minimum disturbance. Sensitivity to crosslinks requires high strain such that the segments between crosslinks become fully extended.

Zero force TM will only be sensitive to changes in the bulk that are expressed as a change in a linear dimension of the material. The measured change will be the resultant of all processes occurring as the temperature is changed. Some of the processes with be reversible, others irreversible, and others time dependent. The methodology must be chosen to best detect, distinguish and resolve the thermal expansion or contractions observable. The TMA instrument need only apply sufficient stress to keep the probe in contact with the sample surface, but it must have high sensitivity to dimensional change. The experiment must be conducted at a temperature change rate slow enough for the material to approach thermal equilibrium throughout. While the temperature should be the same throughout the material it will not necessarily be at thermal equilibrium in the context of molecular relaxations. The temperature of the molecules relative to equilibrium is expressed as the fictive temperature. The fictive temperature is the temperature at which the unrelaxed molecules would be at equilibrium.

Evolved gas analysis (EGA) 

Evolved gas analysis (EGA) is a method used to study the gas evolved from a heated sample that undergoes decomposition or desorption. It is possible to detect which gas is evolved using evolved gas detection (EGD). EGD is often performed by coupling EGA with mass spectrometry, Fourier transform spectroscopy, gas chromatography, or Optical In-Situ Evolved Gas Analysis.

By coupling the thermal analysis instrument, e. g. TGA (Thermogravimetry) or DSC (Differential scanning calorimetry), with a fast Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer (QMS) the detection of gas separation and identification of the separated components are possible in exact time correlation with the other thermal analysis signals. DSC/TGA-QMS or TGA-QMS yields information on the composition (mass numbers of elements and molecules) of the evolved gases. It allows fast and easy interpretation of atomic/inorganic vapors and standard gases like H2, H2O, CO2, etc. Fragmentation, interpretation of organic molecules is sometimes difficult.

The combination with an FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer) has become popular, especially in the polymer producing, chemical and pharmaceutical industry.  DSC/TGA-FTIR or TGA-FTIR yields information on the composition (absorption bands) of the evolved gases (bonding conditions). The advantage is an easy interpretation (spectra data bases) of organic vapors without fragmentation. Symmetrical molecules can not be detected.

Thermal Analysis Application Areas

Pharma Materials

DSC and TGA are often used for characterisation of pharma materials. DSC is able to differentiate between different polymorphic structures and, by using different heating rates, can investigate the transformations which occur during the polymorphic transformation. By using appropriate heating rates, polymorphic purity can be determined, and can involve heating rates up to 750°C/min. TGA is often used to measure residual solvents and moisture, but can also be used to determine solubility of pharma materials in solvents. Analysis of pharma materials is probably the largest area of application for thermal analysis.


Polymers represent another large area in which thermal analysis finds strong applications. Thermoplastic polymers are commonly found in everyday packaging and household items, but for the analysis of the raw materials, effects of the many additive used (including stabilisers and colours) and fine-tuning of the moulding or extrusion processing used can be achieved by using DSC. An example is oxidation induction time (OIT) by DSC which can determine the amount of oxidation stabiliser present in a thermoplastic (usually a polyolefin) polymer material. Compositional analysis is often made using TGA, which can separate fillers, polymer resin and other additives. TGA can also give an indication of thermal stability and the effects of additives such as flame retardants

Thermal analysis of composite materials, such as carbon fibre composites or glass epoxy composites are often carried out using DMA  which can measure the stiffness of materials by determining the modulus and damping (energy absorbing) properties of the material. Aerospace companies often employ these analysers in routine quality control to ensure that products being manufactured meet the required strength specifications. Formula 1 racing car manufacturers also have similar requirements! DSC is used to determine the curing properties of the resins used in composite materials, and can also confirm whether a resin can be cured and how much heat is evolved during that process. Application of predictive kinetics analysis can help to fine-tune manufacturing processes. Another example is that TGA can be used to measure the fibre content of composites by heating a sample to remove the resin by application of heat and then determining the mass remaining.


Production of many metals (cast iron, grey iron, ductile iron, compacted graphite iron, 3000 series aluminium alloys, copper alloys, silver, and complex steels) are aided by a production technique also referred to as thermal analysis. A sample of liquid metal is removed from the furnace or ladle and poured into a sample cup with a thermocouple embedded in it. The temperature is then monitored, and the phase diagram arrests (liquidus, eutectic, and solidus) are noted. From this information chemical composition based on the phase diagram can be calculated, or the crystalline structure of the cast sample can be estimated. Strictly speaking these measurements are cooling curves and a form of sample controlled thermal analysis whereby the cooling rate of the sample is dependent on the cup material (usually bonded sand) and sample volume which is normally a constant due to the use of standard sized sample cups.

Advanced techniques use differential curves to locate endothermic inflection points such as gas holes, and shrinkage, or exothermic phases such as carbides, beta crystals, inter crystalline copper, magnesium silicide, iron phosphide’s and other phases as they solidify. Detection limits seem to be around 0.01% to 0.03% of volume.

In addition, integration of the area between the zero curve and the first derivative is a measure of the specific heat of that part of the solidification which can lead to rough estimates of the percent volume of a phase. (Something has to be either known or assumed about the specific heat of the phase versus the overall specific heat.) In spite of this limitation, this method is better than estimates from two dimensional micro analysis, and a lot faster than chemical dissolution.


Most foods are subjected to variations in their temperature during production, transport, storage, preparation and consumption, e.g., pasteurization, sterilization, evaporation, cooking, freezing, chilling, etc. Temperature changes cause alterations in the physical and chemical properties of food components which influence the overall properties of the final product, e.g., taste, appearance, texture and stability. Chemical reactions such as hydrolysis, oxidation or reduction may be promoted, or physical changes, such as evaporation, melting, crystallization, aggregation or gelation may occur. A better understanding of the influence of temperature on the properties of foods enables food manufacturers to optimize processing conditions and improve product quality. It is therefore important for food scientists to have analytical techniques to monitor the changes that occur in foods when their temperature varies. These techniques are often grouped under the general heading of thermal analysis. In principle, most analytical techniques can be used, or easily adapted, to monitor the temperature-dependent properties of foods, e.g., spectroscopic (NMR, UV-visible, IR spectroscopy, fluorescence), scattering (light, X-rays, neutrons), physical (mass, density, rheology, heat capacity) etc. Nevertheless, at present the term thermal analysis is usually reserved for a narrow range of techniques that measure changes in the physical properties of foods with temperature (TG/DTG, DTA,DSC and Transition temperature).

Printed Circuit Boards (PCB)

Power dissipation is an important issue in present-day PCB design. Power dissipation will result in temperature difference and pose a thermal problem to a chip. In addition to the issue of reliability, excess heat will also negatively affect electrical performance and safety. The working temperature of an IC should therefore be kept below the maximum allowable limit of the worst case. In general, the temperatures of junction and ambient are 125 °C and 55 °C, respectively. The ever-shrinking chip size causes the heat to concentrate within a small area and leads to high power density. Furthermore, denser transistors gathering in a monolithic chip and higher operating frequency cause a worsening of the power dissipation. Removing the heat effectively becomes the critical issue to be resolved.