Gas station without pumps

2012 June 23

Temperature lab, part2

The thermistors that I ordered (see More musings on circuits course: temperature lab and Buying parts for circuits course) arrived today, about 2.1 days after I ordered them.  So I’ll try playing with them today, and see whether I can do the lab I’m thinking of for the students.

My son is still working on the Arduino data logger.  The Arduino code has been done for a while, but he’s been working on the Python front end.  He’s decided to do two front ends: a minimal one with no GUI and a fancy one using PyGUI.  He’s run into some problems (like PyGUI not supporting autoscrolling in TextEditor components), but everything seems to be solvable at this point.  He had a GUI interface working, but decided he needed to refactor his code to have a proper API for the datalogger, so that the user interface and the datalogger core code were as independent as possible with a documented interface between them—he’s teaching himself a lot about software engineering for this project, which is the first one for which he has had an external client.

The action plan for testing out a temperature measurement lab that I posted in More musings on circuits course: temperature lab was

  • Get some thermistors and some thermometer probe sheaths and see if I can make adequate temporary waterproofing for pennies per student.  I’ll probably have to solder on wires to lengthen the leads.
  • Try calibrating thermistors using a multimeter, cups of hot and cold water, and an accurate thermometer.
  • Try reading the thermistor using a voltage divider and the Arduino ADC.  Plot the temperature and Arduino reading over a wide temperature range (say, as a cup of boiling water cools).
  • Try linearizing the thermistor readings  using a parallel resistor and voltage divider.
  • Try designing an amplifier to read the thermistor with much lower current through it (and so less self-heating).

I’ve got three types of thermistors (all 10kΩ nominal resistance at 25° C), none of which are intended for immersion:

  • Vishay BC Components NTCLE100E3103JB0 a very cheap (23.5¢ each in quantities of 10) with B-value 3977°K).  There is high variation in the resistance (±5%), but low variation in the B-value (±0.75%).  These are glass-bead thermistors with 2cm uninsulated leads, so will need waterproofing. I bought 10 of these, but am hoping that I don’t need them.
  • Vishay BC Components NTCLE413E2103F520L (34.9¢ each in quantities of 10) has 4cm leads and is epoxy coated, but with the warning “Not intended for fluid immersed applications or continuous contact with water.”  It has B-value 3435°K, both resistance and B-value ±1%.  I plan to find out today if it is waterproof enough for the relatively short duration of the labs. I bought 10 of these also, and have the highest hopes for these being the ones we use in the lab.
  • Murata Electronics North America NXFT15XH103FA2B100 (66¢ each in quantities of 10) with B-value 3431°K, both resistance and B-value ±1%. The 9.5cm leads make these likely to be the easiest to use with thermometer probe covers, but they are more expensive.  I bought 4 @ 87¢, so as to keep the cost per thermistor type below $3.50. Note: the specs give different B-values depending which pair of temperatures used—I’ll have to look to see if they have specs for higher-order models of the resistance as a function of temperature.

The setup at 110°F, showing 4.60kΩ as the resistance.

I’ll try the epoxy-coated ones with the 4cm leads first. The first step is calibrating one with an ohmmeter. I used clip leads to connect a cheap multimeter to the thermistor, then dunked the thermistor in a glass of warm water with a thermometer (note: we’ll need to get some thermometers for this lab). The thermometer I used is a pasteurizing thermometer that I’ve had for years—it is, unfortunately, calibrated in Fahrenheit, not Celsius. Of course, we ideally want temperature in Kelvin.

I put a table of the measurements on a separate page, to avoid cluttering up the post with a table of 28 measurements.

I don’t expect many of the students will have the patience to make 28 measurements, but if we provide some different hot water sources (water boiled in a teakettle and ice water in a thermos), they should be able to make 10 measurements across a wide range of temperatures. I stopped at 28 measurements, because the alligator clip broke the wire and I didn’t feel like stripping more of the insulation and reconnecting.

I tried to fit the Steinhart-Hart equation {1 \over T} = A + B \ln(R) + C (\ln(R))^3 to the data, where R is the resistance in Ω and T is the temperature in degrees Kelvin. But gnuplot got as good a fit using just A and B as using the third order fit, with T = 1/( 5.01E-4 + 3.11E-4 \ln(R)) providing an excellent fit.

Fitting the first two terms of the Steinhart-Hart model for thermistor behavior.


Simple Arrhenius fit for the data. When I fit the equation R= A e^{B/T}, which is the equation most often used in thermistor specs, I get A=0.24Ω and B=3157°K, which is not that close to the spec (10kΩ @ 25°C, B=3435±35°K, so A=0.0992Ω). Note that the spec curve fits the data quite well for warm temperatures, but deviates badly for cold ones.

There could be systematic problems with either my temperature readings or my resistance readings. The multimeter is more suspect than the thermometer, but the readings would have to be off by 500Ω to get that sort of error in the B-value. The numbers look particularly bad around 110°F. I think I need to get some new batteries for my other other cheap multimeter (which I think is a bit better) and see if it gives more reasonable results.

Wait a minute! I have an old Fluke 8060A multimeter (between 26 and 30 years old) that has a bit of a wonky LCD display, and a blown fuse on the 10A input, but is otherwise still probably my most accurate meter. If its batteries aren’t dead, I may be able to use it to get better measurements.

I tried measuring some known resistors, to see if the meters are way off. I tried an 11.8kΩ ±1% resistor: Fluke meter says 11.77Ω and the suspect multimeter says 11.67kΩ, while for a 732Ω±1% resistor, the Fluke meter says 731.1Ω, while the suspect meter says 718Ω. So the suspect meter appears to be reading 1–2% low, while the Fluke meter is within the accuracy of the resistors. So I boiled up some more water and tried another series of readings (the 63 readings are in a table on a separate page to avoid clutter here.)

Note that there are three runs of data: cooling down from boiling, cooling down from hot tap water, and cooling with ice from room temperature. I found it easiest to do this work on the counter in the bathroom, where I could easily adjust the temperature by pouring out some water and adding more hot or cold water. I was also very careful to make sure that the bulb of the thermometer was in contact with the thermistor while making the measurement, so that they were as nearly the same temperature as I could make them.

Let’s see what sort of fit we can get with this data.

The second data set, with 63 data points, is much cleaner than the first data set, and is well fit by a simple 2-parameter model (leaving out the third term of the Steinhart-Hart equation. Because it is hard to read the thermometer to better than 0.5°F, the fit is really quite good.

The data once again does not match the specified B-value of 3435°K±1%, but B=3174°K, though the curves are quite close for warmer temperatures.

The data sheet reports the 3435°K B-value as a B25/85 measurement, that is, it is based on values at 25°C (77°F) and 85°C (185°F).  If we just fit over that range, we can get the B-value up to 3236°K, which is still a long way short of the specified B-value.

Since I now trust that the resistance measurements are fairly good, the large error in the B-value has to be either from the thermometer or the thermistor. Because I don’t have a more accurate thermometer, and I’m not inclined to get one, I’m a bit stuck at this point in determining whether the thermistor meets the spec or not.

Doing a large number of measurements like this took far too long for the first part of a lab.  A lot of the time was spent waiting for the temperature of the water bath to change (or trying to make change by adding water or ice). We’ll probably have to ask for just 5 or 6 values, perhaps providing them with 5 or 6 water baths in thermoses that they can run their thermistors through one after another, to get the measurements rapidly. We will need some decent thermometers, capable of reading to ±0.2°C, if they aren’t too expensive.

Tomorrow I’ll try doing the electronics part of the lab, adding series and parallel resistors and measuring the voltage with the Arduino.


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  5. So cool, just wondering what software you use to make your graphs for publication? Looks great!

    Comment by Rando — 2015 January 30 @ 06:35 | Reply

    • These graphs and the data fits are done with gnuplot, free software that runs on Linux, Macs, and Windows. I sometimes use MatPlotlib for plots also, but for simple plots gnuplot is my first choice.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 January 30 @ 08:06 | Reply

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