The world’s first ice-calorimeter, used in the winter of 1782-83, by Antoine Lavoisier and Pierre-Simon Laplace, to determine the heat evolved in various chemical changes; calculations which were based on Joseph Black’s prior discovery of latent heat. These experiments mark the foundation of thermochemistry.

A calorimeter (from Latin calor, meaning heat) is a device used for calorimetry, the science of measuring the heat of chemical reactions or physical changes as well as heat capacity. Differential scanning calorimeters, isothermal microcalorimeters, titration calorimeters and accelerated rate calorimeters are among the most common types. A simple calorimeter just consists of a thermometer attached to a metal container full of water suspended above a combustion chamber.

To find the enthalpy change per mole of a substance A in a reaction between two substances A and B, the substances are added to a calorimeter and the initial and final temperatures (before the reaction started and after it has finished) are noted. Multiplying the temperature change by the mass and specific heat capacities of the substances gives a value for the energy given off or absorbed during the reaction. Dividing the energy change by how many moles of A were present gives its enthalpy change of reaction. This method is used primarily in academic teaching as it describes the theory of calorimetry. It does not account for the heat loss through the container or the heat capacity of the thermometer and container itself. In addition, the object placed inside the calorimeter show that the objects transferred their heat to the calorimeter and into the liquid, and the heat absorbed by the calorimeter and the liquid is equal to the heat given off by the metals.


Adiabatic calorimeters

An adiabatic calorimeter is a calorimeter used to examine a runaway reaction. Since the calorimeter runs in an adiabatic environment, any heat generated by the material sample under test causes the sample to increase in temperature, thus fuelling the reaction.

No adiabatic calorimeter is truly adiabatic - some heat will be lost by the sample to the sample holder. A mathematical correction factor, known as the phi-factor, can be used to adjust the calorimetric result to account for these heat losses. The phi-factor is the ratio of the thermal mass of the sample holder to the thermal mass of the sample alone. Examples of adiabatic calorimeters are:-

  • THT EV-Accelerating Rate Calorimeter[1]
  • HEL Phi-Tec[2]
  • A simple Dewar flask
  • Systag FlexyTSC[3] a successor of their SIKAREX unit - the electronics of which could be used to apply a feedback system to heat the sample holder to give a result closer to true adiabaticy, however as the sample holder is an open ended glass tube, one soon loses the sample as a great deal of smoke.

Reaction calorimeters

A reaction calorimeter is a calorimeter in which a chemical reaction is initiated within a closed insulated container. Reaction heats are measured and the total heat is obtained by integrating heatflow versus time. This is the standard used in industry to measure heats since industrial processes are engineered to run at constant temperatures. Reaction calorimetry can also be used to determine maximum heat release rate for chemical process engineering and for tracking the global kinetics of reactions. There are four main methods for measuring the heat in reaction calorimeter:

Heat flow calorimetry

The cooling/heating jacket controls either the temperature of the process or the temperature of the jacket. Heat is measured by monitoring the temperature difference between heat transfer fluid and the process fluid. In addition fill volumes (i.e. wetted area), specific heat, heat transfer coefficient have to be determined to arrive at a correct value. It is possible with this type of calorimeter to do reactions at reflux, although the accuracy is not as good.

Heat balance calorimeter

The cooling/heating jacket controls the temperature of the process. Heat is measured by monitoring the heat gained or lost by the heat transfer fluid.

Power compensation

Power compensation uses a heater placed within the vessel to maintain a constant temperature. The energy supplied to this heater can be varied as reactions require and the calorimetry signal is purely derived from this electrical power.

Constant flux

Constant flux calorimetry (or COFLUX as it is often termed) is derived from heat balance calorimetry and uses specialized control mechanisms to maintain a constant heat flow (or flux) across the vessel wall.

Bomb calorimeters

Bomb calorimeter

A bomb calorimeter is a type of constant-volume calorimeter used in measuring the heat of combustion of a particular reaction. Bomb calorimeters have to withstand the large pressure within the calorimeter as the reaction is being measured. Electrical energy is used to ignite the fuel; as the fuel is burning, it will heat up the surrounding air, which expands and escapes through a tube that leads the air out of the calorimeter. When the air is escaping through the copper tube it will also heat up the water outside the tube. The temperature of the water allows for calculating calorie content of the fuel.

In more recent calorimeter designs, the whole bomb, pressurized with excess pure oxygen (typically at 30atm) and containing a known mass of sample (typically 1-1.5 g) and a small fixed amount of water (to absorb produced acid gases), is submerged under a known volume of water (ca. 2000 ml) before the charge is (again electrically) ignited. The bomb, with sample and oxygen, form a closed system - no air escapes during the reaction. The energy released by the combustion raises the temperature of the steel bomb, its contents, and the surrounding water jacket. The temperature change in the water is then accurately measured. This temperature rise, along with a bomb factor (which is dependent on the heat capacity of the metal bomb parts) is used to calculate the energy given out by the sample burn. A small correction is made to account for the electrical energy input, the burning fuse, and acid production (by titration of the residual liquid). After the temperature rise has been measured, the excess pressure in the bomb is released.

Basically, a bomb calorimeter consists of a small cup to contain the sample, oxygen, a stainless steel bomb, water, a stirrer, a thermometer, the dewar (to prevent heat flow from the calorimeter to the surroundings) and ignition circuit connected to the bomb.

Since there is no heat exchange between the calorimeter and surroundings → Q = 0 (adiabatic) ; no work performed → W = 0 Thus, the total internal energy change ΔU(total) = Q + W = 0

Also, total internal energy change ΔU(total) = ΔU(system) + ΔU(surroundings) = 0 → ΔU(system) = - ΔU(surroundings) = -Cv ΔT (constant volume → dV = 0)

where Cv = heat capacity of the bomb

Before the bomb can be used to determine heat of combustion of any compound, it must be calibrated. The value of Cv can be estimated by Cv (calorimeter) = m (water). Cv (water) + m (steel). Cv (steel)

m (water) and m (steel) can be measured;

Cv(water)= 1 cal/g.K

Cv(steel)= 0.1 cal/g.K

In laboratory, Cv is determined by running a compound with known heat of combustion value: Cv = Hc/ΔT

Common compounds are benzoic acid (Hc = 6318 cal/g) or p-methyl benzoic acid (Hc = 6957 cal/g).

Temperature (T) is recorded every minute and ΔT = T(final) - T(initial)

A small factor contributes to the correction of the total heat of combustion is the fuse wire. Nickel fuse wire is often used and has heat of combustion = 981.3 cal/g

In order to calibrate the bomb, a small amount (~ 1 g) of benzoic acid, or p-methyl benzoic acid is weighed. A length of Nickel fuse wire (~10 cm) is weighed both before and after the combustion process. Mass of fuse wire burned Δm = m(before) - m(after)

The combustion of sample (benzoic acid) inside the bomb ΔHc = ΔHc (benzoic acid) x m (benzoic acid) + ΔHc (Ni fuse wire) x Δm (Ni fuse wire)

ΔHc = Cv. ΔT → Cv = ΔHc/ΔT

Once Cv value of the bomb is determined, the bomb is ready to use to calculate heat of combustion of any compounds by ΔHc = Cv. ΔT

[4] [5]

Calvet-type calorimeters

The detection is based on a three-dimensional fluxmeter sensor. The fluxmeter element consists of a ring of several thermocouples in series. The corresponding thermopile of high thermal conductivity surrounds the experimental space within the calorimetric block. The radial arrangement of the thermopiles guarantees an almost complete integration of the heat. This is verified by the calculation of the efficiency ratio that indicates that an average value of 94 % +/- 1 % of heat is transmitted through the sensor on the full range of temperature of the Calvet-type calorimeter. In this setup, the sensitivity of the calorimeter is not affected by the crucible, the type of purgegas, or the flow rate. The main advantage of the setup is the increase of the experimental vessel's size and consequently the size of the sample, without affecting the accuracy of the calorimetric measurement.

The calibration of the calorimetric detectors is a key parameter and has to be performed very carefully. For Calvet-type calorimeters, a specific calibration, so called Joule effect or electrical calibration, has been developed to overcome all the problems encountered by a calibration done with standard materials. The main advantages of this type of calibration are as follows:

  • It is an absolute calibration.
  • The use of standard materials for calibration is not necessary. The calibration can be performed at a constant temperature, in the heating mode and in the cooling mode.
  • It can be applied to any experimental vessel volume.
  • It is a very accurate calibration.

An example of Calvet-type calorimeter is the C80 Calorimeter (reaction, isothermal and scanning calorimeter).[6]

Constant-pressure calorimeter

A constant-pressure calorimeter measures the change in enthalpy of a reaction occurring in solution during which the atmospheric pressure remains constant.

An example is a coffee-cup calorimeter, which is constructed from two nested Styrofoam cups having holes through which a thermometer and a stirring rod can be inserted. The inner cup holds the solution in which of the reaction occurs, and the outer cup provides insulation. Then

Cp = \frac {W\Delta H}{M\Delta T}


Cp = Specific heat at constant pressure
ΔH = Enthalpy of solution
ΔT = Change in temperature
W = mass of solute
M = molecular mass of solute

Differential scanning calorimeter

In a differential scanning calorimeter (DSC), heat flow into a sample—usually contained in a small aluminium capsule or 'pan'—is measured differentially, i.e., by comparing it to the flow into an empty reference pan.

In a heat flux DSC, both pans sit on a small slab of material with a known (calibrated) heat resistance K. The temperature of the calorimeter is raised linearly with time (scanned), i.e., the heating rate dT/dt = β is kept constant. This time linearity requires good design and good (computerized) temperature control. Of course, controlled cooling and isothermal experiments are also possible.

Heat flows into the two pans by conduction. The flow of heat into the sample is larger because of its heat capacity Cp. The difference in flow dq/dt induces a small temperature difference ΔT across the slab. This temperature difference is measured using a thermocouple. The heat capacity can in principle be determined from this signal:

\Delta T = K {dq\over dt} = K C_p\, \beta

Note that this formula (equivalent to Newton's law of heat flow) is analogous to, and much older than, Ohm's law of electric flow: ΔV = R dQ/dt = R I.

When suddenly heat is absorbed by the sample (e.g., when the sample melts), the signal will respond and exhibit a peak.

{dq\over dt} = C_p \beta + f(t,T)

From the integral of this peak the enthalpy of melting can be determined, and from its onset the melting temperature.

Differential scanning calorimetry is a workhorse technique in many fields, particularly in polymer characterization.

A modulated temperature differential scanning calorimeter (MTDSC) is a type of DSC in which a small oscillation is imposed upon the otherwise linear heating rate.

This has a number of advantages. It facilitates the direct measurement of the heat capacity in one measurement, even in (quasi-)isothermal conditions. It permits the simultaneous measurement of heat effects that are reversible and not reversible at the timescale of the oscillation (reversing and non-reversing heat flow, respectively). It increases the sensitivity of the heat capacity measurement, allowing for scans at a slow underlying heating rate.

Safety Screening:- DSC may also be used as an 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 unknonwn 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 3°C increment per half hour.

Isothermal titration calorimeter

In an isothermal titration calorimeter, the heat of reaction is used to follow a titration experiment. This permits determination of the mid point (stoichiometry) (N) of a reaction as well as its enthalpy (delta H), entropy (delta S) and of primary concern the binding affinity (Ka)

The technique is gaining in importance particularly in the field of biochemistry, because it facilitates determination of substrate binding to enzymes. The technique is commonly used in the pharmaceutical industry to characterize potential drug candidates.

See also


  1. ^ THT EV-ARC
  2. ^ HEL Phi-Tec
  3. ^ Systag FlexyTSC
  4. ^ Polik, W. (1997). Bomb Calorimetery. Retrieved from http://www.chem. hope. edu/ ~polik/Chem345-1997/calorimetry/bombcalorimetry1.html
  5. ^ Bozzelli, J. (2010). Heat of Combustion via Calorimetry: Detailed Procedures. Chem 339-Physical Chemistry Lab for Chemical Engineers –Lab Manual.
  6. ^ C80 Calorimeter from Setaram Instrumentation

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  • Calorimeter — Cal o*rim e*ter, n. [L. calor heat + meter; cf. F. calorim[ e]tre.] 1. (Physiol.) An apparatus for measuring the amount of heat contained in bodies or developed by some mechanical or chemical process, as friction, chemical combination, combustion …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Calorimeter — (v. lat. u. gr.), 1) so v.w. Thermometer; 2) ein von Rumford erfundenes Instrument zur Bestimmung der durch Verbrennung entstehenden Wärmemenge, indem man hierbei untersucht, um wie viel Grade eine bestimmte Quantität Wasser erwärmt wird. Es ist… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Calorimeter — Calorimeter, s. Wärmemesser …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • calorimeter — 1794, from CALORIE (Cf. calorie) + METER (Cf. meter). A hybrid word …   Etymology dictionary

  • calorimeter — ► NOUN ▪ an apparatus for measuring the amount of heat involved in a chemical reaction or other process. DERIVATIVES calorimetric adjective calorimetry noun …   English terms dictionary

  • calorimeter — [kal΄ə rim′ət ər] n. [< L calor (see CALORIFIC) + METER] an apparatus for measuring amounts of heat, as in chemical combination, friction, etc …   English World dictionary

  • calorimeter — /kal euh rim i teuhr/, n. an apparatus for measuring quantities of heat. [1785 95; CALORI + METER] * * * Device for measuring heat produced during a mechanical, electrical, or chemical reaction and for calculating the heat capacity of materials.… …   Universalium

  • calorimeter — n as used in Test Method D5865, the bomb and its contents, the calorimeter vessel with stirrer, the water in which the bomb is immersed, and the portions of the thermometer and the ignition leads within the calorimeter vessel. D5865 …   Coke&Coal Terminology

  • calorimeter — An apparatus for measuring the amount of heat liberated in a chemical reaction. [L. calor, heat, + G. metron, measure] Benedict Roth c. Benedict Roth apparatus. bomb c. an instrument for determining the potential energy …   Medical dictionary

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