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Temperature measurement using modern scientific

thermometers and temperature scales goes back at least as
far as the early 18th century, when Gabriel Fahrenheit
adapted a thermometer (switching to mercury) and a scale
both developed by Ole Christensen Roemer. Fahrenheit's
scale is still in use, alongside the Celsius scale and the
Kelvin scale.

The world's average surface air temperature is about 15 °C. For information on
temperature changes relevant to climate change or Earth's geologic past see: Temperature


Temperature is the degree of hotness or coldness of a substance measured on a definite

scale. Temperature is measured when a measuring instrument, such as a thermometer, is
brought into contact with the medium being measured. All temperature-measuring
instruments use some change in a material to indicate temperature. Some of the effects
that are used to indicate temperature are changes in physical properties and altered
physical dimensions. One of the more important physical properties used in temperature-
measuring instruments is the change in the length of a material in the form of expansion
and contraction.

Consider the uniform homogeneous bar .

length (LO) at some temperature and is heated, it will

expand (Lf). The amount of expansion is a function of
the original length and the temperature increase. The
amount a material changes in length with temperature is
called the linear coefficient of expansion.
The linear coefficient of expansion for a material is a physical property of that material
and describes its behavior with respect to temperature.


If two materials with different linear coefficients are

bonded together, as the temperature changes their
rate of expansion will be different. This will cause
the entire assembly to bend in an arc..

When the temperature is raised, an arc is formed

around the material with the smaller expansion coefficient. Since this assembly is
formed by joining two dissimilar materials, it is known as a bimetallic element.

A modification of this bimetallic strip serves as the basis for one of the simplest and most
commonly encountered temperature-measuring instruments, the bimetallic thermometer.
Figure shows a bimetallic thermometer. In it, a bimetallic strip is wound in the form of a
long helix. One end of the helix is held rigid. As the temperature varies, the helix tries to
wind or unwind. This causes the free end to rotate. The free end is connected to a pointer.
The pointer actually indicates angular rotation of the helix; however, since the rotation is
linear and a function of temperature, the scale is marked in units of temperature.


Distant-reading dial thermometers are used when

the indicating portion of the instrument must be
placed at a distance from where the temperature is
being measured. The distant-reading thermometer
has a long capillary, some as long as 125 feet,
which separates the sensing bulb from the Bourdon
tube and dial (fig. 8-14). There are three basic types
of distant-reading thermometers: the liquid filled,
the gas filled, and the combination liquid-vapor
filled. The thermometers are filled with fluid (liquid
or gas) at some temperature and sealed. Almost the
entire volume of the fluid is in the sensing bulb. As
the temperature of the bulb changes, the volume of the fluid tries to change. Since the
volume of the thermometer (sensing bulb, capillary, and Bourdon tube) is constant, a
pressure change occurs within the thermometer. This pressure change causes the Bourdon
tube to straighten out (with an increase in pressure), working a system of levers and gears,
which causes the thermometer pointer to move over the dial and register temperature.


Temperature switches operate from temperature changes

occurring in an enclosure, or in the air surrounding the
temperature-sensing element. The operation of the
temperature switch is similar to the operation of the pressure switch shown in figure both
switches are operated by changes in pressure. The temperature element is arranged so a
change in temperature causes a change in the internal pressure of a sealed-gas or air-filled

or helix, which is connected to the actuating device by a small tube or pipe. Figure 8-15
shows a temperature switch and two types of sensing elements.

A temperature change causes a change in the volume of the sealed-in gas, which causes
movement of a bellows. The movement is transmitted by a plunger to the switch arm. The
moving contact is on the arm. A fixed contact may be arranged so the switch will open or
close on a temperature rise. This allows the switch contacts to be arranged to close when
the temperature drops to a predetermined value and to open when the temperature rises to
the desired value. The reverse action can be obtained by a change in the contact positions.


Many methods have been developed for measuring temperature. Most of these rely on
measuring some physical property of a working material that varies with temperature. One
of the most common devices for measuring temperature is the glass thermometer. This
consists of a glass tube filled with mercury or some other liquid, which acts as the
working fluid. Temperature increases cause the fluid to expand, so the temperature can be
determined by measuring the volume of the fluid. Such thermometers are usually
calibrated, so that one can read the temperature, simply by observing the level of the fluid
in the thermometer. Another type of thermometer that is not really used much in practice,
but is important from a theoretical standpoint is the gas thermometer.

Other important devices for measuring temperature include:

• Thermocouples
• Thermistors
• Resistance Temperature Detector (RTD)
• Pyrometers
• Langmuir probes (for electron temperature of a plasma)
• Infrared
• Other thermometers


Pyrometer is any non-contacting device that intercepts

and measures thermal radiation. This measure is used to
determine temperature, often of the object's surface.
The word pyrometer comes from the Greek word for fire, "πυρ", and meter, meaning to
measure. Pyrometer was originally coined to denote a device capable of measuring
temperatures of objects above incandescence (i.e. objects bright to the human eye).

Principle of operation

A pyrometer has an optical system and detector. The optical system focuses the thermal
radiation onto the detector. The output signal of the detector (Temperature T) is related to
the thermal radiation or irradiance j* of the target object through the Stefan–Boltzmann
law, the constant of proportionality σ, called the Stefan-Boltzmann constant and the
emissivity ε of the object.

This output is used to infer the object's temperature. Thus, there is no need for direct
contact between the pyrometer and the object, as there is with thermocouple and
Resistance temperature detector (RTDs). Pyrometer is used for measurement of high


Resistance thermometers, also called resistance temperature detectors (RTDs), are

temperature sensors that exploit the predictable change in electrical resistance of some
materials with changing temperature. As they are almost invariably made of platinum,
they are often called platinum resistance thermometers (PRTs). They are slowly replacing
the use of thermocouples in many industrial applications below 600 °C.

General description

There are two broad categories, "film" and "wire-wound" types.

• Film thermometers have a layer of platinum on a substrate; the layer may be

extremely thin, perhaps one micrometer. Advantages of this type are relatively low
cost and fast response. Such devices have improved in performance although the
different expansion rates of the substrate and platinum give "strain gauge" effects
and stability problems.
• Wire-wound thermometers can have greater accuracy, especially for wide
temperature ranges. The coil diameter provides a compromise between mechanical
stability and allowing expansion of the wire to minimize strain and consequential

Resistance thermometers working;

Resistance thermometers are constructed in a number of forms and offer greater stability,
accuracy and repeatability in some cases than thermocouples. While thermocouples use
the Seebeck effect to generate a voltage, resistance thermometers use electrical resistance
and require a small power source to operate. The resistance ideally varies linearly with

Resistance thermometers are usually made using platinum, because of its linear
resistance-temperature relationship and its chemical inertness. The platinum detecting
wire needs to be kept free of contamination to remain stable. A platinum wire or film is
supported on a former in such a way that it gets minimal differential expansion or other
strains from its former, yet is reasonably resistant to vibration. RTD assemblies made
from iron or copper are also used in some applications.

Resistance thermometers require a small current to be passed through in order to

determine the resistance. This can cause resistive heating, and manufacturers' limits
should always be followed along with heat path considerations in design. Care should also
be taken to avoid any strains on the resistance thermometer in its application. Lead wire
resistance should be considered, and adopting three and four wire connections can
eliminate connection lead resistance effects from measurements - industrial practice is
almost universally to use 3-wire connection. 4-wire connection need to be used for precise

Advantages and limitations

Advantages of platinum resistance thermometers:

• High accuracy
• Low drift
• Wide operating range
• Suitability for precision applications


• RTDs in industrial applications are rarely used above 660 °C. At temperatures
above 660 °C it becomes increasingly difficult to prevent the platinum from
becoming contaminated by impurities from the metal sheath of the thermometer.
This is why laboratory standard thermometers replace the metal sheath with a
glass construction. At very low temperatures, say below -270 °C (or 3 K), due to
the fact that there are very few phonons, the resistance of an RTD is mainly
determined by impurities and boundary scattering and thus basically independent
of temperature. As a result, the sensitivity of the RTD is essentially zero and
therefore not useful.
• Compared to Thermistors, platinum RTDs are less sensitive to small temperature
changes and have a slower response time. However Thermistors have a smaller
temperature range and stability.
Resistance thermometer construction

These elements nearly always require insulated leads attached. At low temperatures PVC,
silicon rubber or PTFE insulators are common to 250°C. Above this, glass fibre or
ceramic are used. The measuring point and usually most of the leads require a housing or
protection sleeve. This is often a metal alloy which is inert to a particular process. Often
more consideration goes in to selecting and designing protection sheaths than sensors as
this is the layer that must withstand chemical or physical attack and offer convenient
process attachment points.


In electrical engineering and industry, thermocouples are a

widely used type of temperature sensor and can also be
used as a means to convert thermal potential difference into
electric potential difference. They are cheap and
interchangeable, have standard connectors, and can
measure a wide range of temperatures. The main limitation
is accuracy; System errors of less than one Kelvin (K) can
be difficult to achieve.


A variety of thermocouples are available, suitable for different measuring applications.

They are usually selected based on the temperature range and sensitivity needed.
Thermocouples with low sensitivities (B, R, and S types) have correspondingly lower
resolutions. Other selection criteria include the inertness of the thermocouple material,
and whether or not it is magnetic. The thermocouple types are listed below with the
positive electrode first, followed by the negative electrode.

S and K type thermocouples;

the S one is partially sheathed
with an alundum tube.Type K (chromel–alumel) is the most commonly used for general
purpose thermocouple. It is inexpensive and, owing to its popularity, available in a wide
variety of probes. They are available in the −200 °C to +1350 °C range. The type K was
specified at a time when metallurgy was less advanced than it is today and, consequently,
characteristics vary considerably between examples. Another potential problem arises in
some situations since one of the constituent metals, nickel, is magnetic. One characteristic
of thermocouples made with magnetic material is that they undergo a step change when
the magnetic material reaches its Curie point. This occurs for this thermocouple at 354°C.
Sensitivity is approximately 41 µV/°C.

Type E (chromel–constantan)[4] has a high output (68 µV/°C) which makes it well suited
to cryogenic use. Additionally, it is non-magnetic.

Type J (iron–constantan) is less popular than type K due to its limited range (−40 to
+750 °C). The main application is with old equipment that cannot accept modern
thermocouples. The Curie point of the iron (770 °C) causes an abrupt change to the
characteristic and it is this that provides the upper temperature limit. Type J
thermocouples have a sensitivity of about 50 µV/°C.

Type N (nicrosil–nisil) thermocouples are suitable for use at high temperatures, exceeding
1200 °C, due to their stability and ability to resist high temperature oxidation. Sensitivity
is about 39 µV/°C at 900°C, slightly lower than type K. Designed to be an improved type
K, it is becoming more popular.

B, R, and S

Types B, R, and S thermocouples use platinum or a platinum–rhodium alloy for each

conductor. These are among the most stable thermocouples, but have lower sensitivity,
approximately 10 µV/°C, than other types. The high cost of these makes them unsuitable
for general use. Generally, type B, R, and S thermocouples are used only for high
temperature measurements.

Type B thermocouples use a platinum–rhodium alloy for each conductor. One conductor
contains 30% rhodium while the other conductor contains 6% rhodium. These
thermocouples are suited for use at up to 1800 °C. Type B thermocouples produce the
same output at 0 °C and 42 °C, limiting their use below about 50 °C.

Type R thermocouples use a platinum–rhodium alloy containing 13% rhodium for one
conductor and pure platinum for the other conductor. Type R thermocouples are used up
to 1600 °C.
Type S thermocouples use a platinum–rhodium alloy containing 10% rhodium for one
conductor and pure platinum for the other conductor. Like type R, type S thermocouples
are used up to 1600 °C. In particular, type S is used as the standard of calibration for the
melting point of gold (1064.43 °C).

Type T (copper–constantan) thermocouples are suited for measurements in the −200 to

350 °C range. Often used as a differential measurement since only copper wire touches
the probes. Since both conductors are non magnetic, there is no Curie point and thus no
abrupt change in characteristics. Type T thermocouples have a sensitivity of about
43 µV/°C.

Type M thermocouples use a nickel alloy for each wire. The positive wire contains 18%
molybdenum while the negative wire contains 0.8% cobalt.[6] These thermocouples are
used in the vacuum furnaces for the same reasons as with type C. Upper temperature is
limited to 1400 °C. Though it is a less common type of thermocouple, look-up tables to
correlate temperature to EMF (milli-volt output) are available.


A mercury-in-glass thermometer, invented by German

physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, is a thermometer
consisting of mercury in a glass tube. Calibrated marks on
the tube allow the temperature to be read by the length of
the mercury within the tube, which varies according to the
heat given to it. To increase the sensitivity, there is usually
a bulb of mercury at the end of the thermometer which contains most of the mercury;
expansion and contraction of this volume of mercury is then amplified in the much
narrower bore of the tube. The space above the mercury may be filled with nitrogen or it
may be a vacuum.


A Thermistors is a type of resistor with resistance varying

according to its temperature. The word is a portmanteau of
thermal and resistor.
Thermistors are widely used as inrush current limiters, temperature sensors, self-resetting
overcurrent protectors, and self-regulating heating elements. symbol of Thermistors

Assuming, as a first-order approximation, that the relationship between resistance and

temperature is linear, then:

ΔR = kΔT


ΔR = change in resistance
ΔT = change in temperature
k = first-order temperature coefficient of resistance

Thermistors can be classified into two types depending on the sign of k. If k is positive,
the resistance increases with increasing temperature, and the device is called a positive
temperature coefficient (PTC) thermistor, or posistor. If k is negative, the resistance
decreases with increasing temperature, and the device is called a negative temperature
coefficient (NTC) thermistor. Resistors that are not Thermistors are designed to have a k
as close to zero as possible, so that their resistance remains nearly constant over a wide
temperature range.

Thermistors differ from resistance temperature detectors (RTD) in that the material used
in a thermistor is generally a ceramic or polymer, while RTDs use pure metals. The
temperature response is also different; RTDs are useful over larger temperature ranges,
while thermistors typically achieve a higher precision within a limited temperature range.

Steinhart-Hart equation

In practice, the linear approximation (above) works only over a small temperature range.
For accurate temperature measurements, the resistance/temperature curve of the device
must be described in more detail. The Steinhart-Hart equation is a widely used third-order
Where a, b and c are called the Steinhart-Hart parameters, and must be specified for each
device. T is the temperature in kelvins and R is the resistance in ohms. To give resistance
as a function of temperature, the above can be rearranged into:



The error in the Steinhart-Hart equation is generally less than 0.02°C in the measurement
of temperature. As an example, typical values for a thermistor with a resistance of 3000 Ω
at room temperature (25°C = 298.15 K) are:

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