Instrumentation and Lab Equipment

A Clear Vision

Thermal analysis provides ceramic and glass manufacturers with multiple R&D and quality control options.natas people working group

The focus of the North American Thermal Analysis Society (NATAS) is very clear: to promote thermal analysis in both development and production settings. I recently had the opportunity to speak with NATAS President Eric Schoch, Ph.D., manager of Materials and Processes for Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems, regarding the vital role that thermal analysis plays in ceramic and glass manufacturing.

Why is thermal analysis important?

Thermal analysis measures the thermal properties of materials to provide composition and process information such as phase transitions and chemical reactions—basically, what happens when things are heated up. If you’re co-firing different ceramic materials, for example, then getting things to expand or contract at the appropriate rate so they stay in one piece is an important issue. People also look at chemical reactions and at what temperature reactions occur to determine what sort of a temperature profile they want to use for creating a reaction or to find out the temperature where the ceramic densifies.

The thermal analysis arena encompasses several different techniques. One is thermogravimetric analysis (TGA), which looks at weight changes with temperature. TGA can tell you about chemical reactions that are happening and you can identify the effluent gases coming off with infrared spectroscopy or mass spectroscopy. Differential thermal analysis (DTA) looks at chemical reactions, phase transitions, melting points and crystallization, which are also relevant to the glass business. Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), which is pretty similar to DTA, looks at phase transitions, i.e., purity. Melting point depends on the purity of something, so if you have a sharp melting material you know it’s high purity.

When was NATAS founded, and what is its purpose?

This is our 40th year. The focus is, of course, thermal analysis. In the 1940s and ’50s, this was done basically with homemade equipment. Everybody made their own apparatus for these measurements, and they were essentially looking at chemical reactions and phase transitions.

In the ’60s and early ’70s, commercial instruments started to become available as the technique was more commonly used. People got together to talk about the instrumentation, as well as experimental issues regarding how the measurements were taken and what kinds of behavior they were seeing. So the intention was to have a society where people focused on those techniques could get together, as opposed to being a part of a bigger organization like the American Chemical Society or the American Physical Society, where the information is more diffuse.

Today, we still focus on instrumentation and methods. However, since these instruments are more readily available, we also see a lot more information regarding applications. People have gotten into specific applications, like pharmaceuticals, energetic materials, polymers, ceramics and inorganic materials, thermal hazards, and life prediction.

When you look at the conference today, there are talks on instrumentation and the developments and advances there, but also symposia in these different areas about how thermal analysis is applied in these various technical areas. The attraction is that it’s a smaller meeting and people are really focused on thermal analysis techniques.

The 40th Annual Conference of NATAS will be held August 12-15 at the Buena Vista Palace Hotel & Spa in Orlando, Fla. For additional information, visit


Local NATAS sections often hold one-day meetings for people in their respective regions. Local sections include the Bay Area Thermal Analysis Society, the Canadian Thermal Analysis Society (CTAS), the Texas & Southwest Thermal Analysis & Rheology Forum (NaTex), and the Thermal Analysis Forum of Delaware Valley. The NATAS website at includes contact information for each of these local sections.

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