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 is 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.
Differential scanning calorimetry can be used to measure several 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 a valuable tool in producing phase diagrams for various chemical systems.
DSC is used widely for examining polymeric materials to determine their thermal transitions. Important thermal transitions include the glass transition temperature (Tg), crystallization temperature (Tc), and melting temperature (Tm). The observed thermal transitions can be utilized to compare materials, although the transitions alone do not uniquely identify composition. The composition of unknown materials may be completed using complementary techniques such as IR spectroscopy. Melting points and glass transition temperatures for most polymers are available from standard compilations, and the method can show polymer degradation by the lowering of the expected melting temperature. Tm depends on the molecular weight of the polymer and thermal history.
The percent crystalline content of a polymer can be estimated from the crystallization/melting peaks of the DSC graph using reference heats of fusion found in the literature. DSC can also be used to study thermal degradation of polymers using an approach such as Oxidative Onset Temperature/Time (OOT); however, the user risks contamination of the DSC cell, which can be problematic. Thermogravimetric Analysis (TGA) may be more useful for decomposition behavior determination. Impurities in polymers can be determined by examining thermograms for anomalous peaks, and plasticizers can be detected at their characteristic boiling points. In addition, examination of minor events in first heat thermal analysis data can be useful as these apparently “anomalous peaks” can in fact also be representative of process or storage thermal history of the material or polymer physical aging. Comparison of first and second heat data collected at consistent heating rates can allow the analyst to learn about both polymer processing history and material properties