Differential Scanning Calorimetry


Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC) is the measurement of heat flux with respect to a reference as a function of temperature.  The DSC instrument used at Particle Technology Labs is the Netzsch DSC 200 F3 Maia.  This instrument has been qualified for use from -170 °C to 600 °C and is capable of taking measurements with just a few milligrams of sample. 

The DSC instrument at Particle Technology Labs has been qualified in compliance with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) Regulations, 21 CFR Parts 210 and 211 and the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), General Chapters  <891> Thermal Analysis and <1058> Analytical Instrument Qualification.  When applicable, samples are analysed per various methods including ASTM D3418, ASTM E2253, ASTM E967, ASTM E968, ASTM E2160, ISO 11357-1, and USP <891>.       

Heat flux occurs in materials most normally when they experience a change in phase:

melting and freezing

vaporization and condensation


They may also experience a heat flux when:

passing through a glass transition

transitioning between amorphous and crystalline states

changing polymorphic forms

changing crystalline states of hydration or solvation

Some of these thermal events require energy or heat to occur and are categorized as being endothermic; e.g. melting, vaporization, sublimation, etc.  Other thermal events give off energy or heat when they occur and are categorized as being exothermic; e.g. freezing, condensing, transitioning from an amorphous to a crystalline material, etc. 

The transition between polymorphic forms may be either exothermic or endothermic.  A glass transition, unlike the normal phase transitions, is considered a second-order transition.  Thus, the first derivative of the free energy with respect to chemical potential is continuous, but the second derivative is discontinuous.  This is believed to be because of the change in thermal expansion and heat capacity of amorphous materials as they transition from their hard, brittle state into a soft, rubber-like state.

DSC is a multipurpose tool.  As such, it can be used to generate several types of data that have applicability to nearly any business sector or application.  The most common sectors that use DSC include:





carbons (including carbon black, graphite, graphene, and carbon nanotubes)

fire retardants

electronics (including solder)

proteins and biochemical substances


Though most analysis requests on the DSC instrument involve the measurement of melting points or glass transition temperatures, the versatility of the technique lends itself to a broad array of additional analyses.  For instance, plasticizers are often added to plastic in order to decrease its glass transition temperature.  Thus, the effect of various plasticizers and their concentrations on the glass transition of a particular system can be studied. 

Certain materials are often heated, extruded, and rapidly cooled.  This rapid cooling locks the structure of the material in place, even if it is not fully equilibrated to a global minimum in energy.  If this material is then placed in the DSC instrument, heated, and cooled slowly, it may assume a different structure, often at a lower energy level.  Once the material is reheated, differences in melting points and glass transition temperatures may be evident and are often attributed to the “thermal history” of the sample.    

As in TGA, one of the vital components is the gas composition within the calorimeter.  Most commonly, an analysis is either performed in an inert nitrogen environment or in an oxidative environment of air.  In certain sample types, various pathways or mechanisms that may be present in an oxidative environment are not present in an inert environment. 

Another common application of DSC is the measurement of the specific heat capacity of a substance, which is detailed in ASTM E1269 and ISO 11357-4.  The specific heat capacity is defined as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of a given mass of material a certain amount.  The specific heat capacity of a substance is useful for reactor and cooling system design as well as in research and development.    

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