Differential scanning calorimetry

Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) is a thermoanalytical technique that measures the heat flow through a polymer sample. DSC testing gives precise results on the material’s enthalpy changes. The method is used to characterize phase transitions of solid and semisolid samples and to study biopolymer denaturation.


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What is DSC analysis and how does it work?

Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) is one of the most common thermal analysis methods. It can be used for solid and semi-solid samples to acquire essential information about the material's behavior at different temperatures.

The sample and the reference material are first cooled or heated at a steady rate. Heat flow is then monitored to characterize the phase transitions as a function of temperature or time. Cure reactions can also be monitored. The operating range of DSC is generally broad, although the exact range depends on the equipment. At Measurlabs, we offer accredited thermal characterization with DSC within a temperature range of -170 °C to 600 °C.

Differential scanning calorimetry can also be used to examine how well the material handles oxidative stress. This method is called oxidation induction time (OIT). Typically, nitrogen is used in DSC testing to prevent oxidation. In OIT, the sample is first heated to the observation temperature, and after that, the nitrogen atmosphere is replaced with an oxygen atmosphere. OIT is the time from the change of gases to the exothermic peak, and it describes how well the material survives oxidative stress at a given temperature.   

Suitable sample matrices

  • Food substances
  • Biopolymers, like proteins, enzymes etc.
  • Metals, alloys, films, fibers
  • Oils and greases
  • Amorphous substances
  • Polymers
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Powders

Ideal uses of DSC testing

  • Determining the melting and solidification temperatures of metal alloys and metals in corrosive conditions
  • Determining the thermal transition midpoints (Tm) for biopolymers
  • Identifying impurities in food, plastics, and pharmaceutical products
  • Optimizing material modification processes through discovery of information on heat capacity and enthalpy changes
  • Energy consumption calculations in food production line optimization
  • Determining the crystallization temperature and estimations of percent crystallinity of samples
  • Discovering the freezing point of food products and antifreeze substances

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Frequently asked questions

What is DSC analysis commonly used for?

Differential scanning calorimetry is used to analyze the heat changes in materials conformations, and it can therefore help to determine the optimal storing temperature for things like pharmacy products and food.

DSC is also a common tool for product line optimization, as it gives exact temperatures for distillation and other heat-related processes.

What are the limitations of differential scanning calorimetry?

Some volatile samples are not optimal for DSC testing, as the test does not allow any sample loss during the process. The method is also destructive to the sample.

In addition, DSC analysis does not provide direct elemental information.

If a reaction event occurs simultaneously with phase transition, the reliability of DSC decreases.

What kinds of samples can be analyzed with DSC?

DSC analysis is usually performed on solids or semisolids, but liquids can also be studied. Highly volatile substances may reduce the reliability of the analysis.

What is Measurlabs?

Measurlabs offers a variety of laboratory analyses for product developers and quality managers. We perform some of the analyses in our own lab, but mostly we outsource them to carefully selected partner laboratories. This way we can send each sample to the lab that is best suited for the purpose, and offer high-quality analyses with more than a thousand different methods to our clients.

How does the service work?

When you contact us through our contact form or by email, one of our specialists will take ownership of your case and answer your query. You get an offer with all the necessary details about the analysis, and can send your samples to the indicated address. We will then take care of sending your samples to the correct laboratories and write a clear report on the results for you.

How do I send my samples?

Samples are usually delivered to our laboratory via courier. Contact us for further details before sending samples.