Study of Polymer Glasses by Modulated Differential Scanning Calorimetry in the Undergraduate Physical Chemistry Laboratory
Recent technological advances in thermal analysis present educational opportunities. In particular, modulated differential scanning calorimetry (MDSC) can be used to contrast reversing and nonreversing processes in practical laboratory experiments. The introduction of these concepts elucidates the relationship between experimental timescales and reversibility. The latter is a key concept of undergraduate thermodynamics theory that deserves reinforcement. In this paper, the theory and application of MDSC to problems of current interest is outlined with special emphasis on the contrast between crystallization and vitrification. Glass formation deserves greater emphasis in the undergraduate curriculum. Glass transitions are increasingly recognized as an important aspect of materials properties and dynamics in fields ranging from polymer science to protein folding. The example chosen for study is a comparison of polyethylene glycol and atactic polypropylene glycol. The experiment is easily performed in a typical three-hour lab session.