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A calorimeter is a device used for calorimetry, the science of measuring the heat of chemical reactions or physical changes as well as heat capacity. The word calorimeter is derived from the Latin word calor, meaning heat. 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. 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.

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