Continuity with Thermal Data

Temperature is very difficult to measure:

Everything responds to temperature. If hot water is poured into a cup, then the cup heats up. If the cup is put onto a desk then heat will be transferred to the surface, under and around the cup. So the rate at which the tea cools will be affected by the desk. For the worst (fastest cooling) case, put the tea in a metal beaker and stand it on a metal bench…

If temperature sensors are attached to the cup and the desk and a thermometer put into the tea, they show the cup and the desk each rising to an equilibrium and then falling as everything cools. Left (for longer than you think), all three end up at the same (room) temperature.

Finally, the drink may be re-heated by placing it on a hotplate whose temperature has been set to the initial tea temperature. But the temperature regained will probably be lower, as heat is now lost continually through the cup and by imperfect heat transfer from the surface of the hotplate, which may itself not be exactly at the temperature requested. (It is surprisingly difficult to heat a block of metal to the same temperature throughout, and even more difficult to measure it.)

So it is difficult to compare a ramped hotplate with a dedicated probe

Although the average temperature of the hotplate may be indicated on the display, it is difficult to know for sure what is happening at the surface, especially when it is changing quite quickly (several degrees/sec). Similarly, in a small thermal probe, heat is travelling from the heater in several directions at once: towards the tissue, towards the sensor and into the air. Both systems can give repeatable results but caution is required when comparing the absolute numbers.

Temperature sensors all respond differently:

Thermocouples, being welded, are usually spherical so most of the junction may be in air rather than in contact with the surface being measured. Glueing the thermocouple with a thermally conductive epoxy helps, but such adhesives are still poor conductors of heat compared to metals. Glueing it into a hole is better.

The connection pins of an electronic sensor may be physically attached to the surface. The main thermal path is usually via the legs, but the rest must then be well insulated to prevent heat flow back out, and the response is usually slower than a thermocouple (because the mass is larger)

The commercial sensor in the picture is well suited to the measurement of liquids but hopeless for a surface as, like the thermocouple junction, most of it is in the air.

Caution is needed when comparing Thermal Threshold techniques

Whatever the method, latency or ramped, hotplate or probe, heat is flowing in many directions, at different rates, through materials of different heat capacity and conductivity, and being measured by different sensors.

Topcat Metrology has spent 20 years characterising the performance of its thermal threshold probes, to provide continuity to its database of threshold data on many species through several generations of probes. The work has resulted in continually smaller and lighter probes with a greatly decreased chance of tissue damage. Topcat use both integrated sensors and thermocouples in the probes and are cautious of believing either of them implicitly. Calibration is carried out against commercial sensors and back checked against a  mercury thermometer.

The end result is a suite of thermal nociceptive testing systems which are repeatable and reproducible. Topcat’s wireless thermal threshold systems are known worldwide to produce tight baseline data and to demonstrate analgesic effect and we are the only company to produce such systems commercially.

generations of thermal probes from topcat metrology

MouseMet Thermal is our newest product. We believe from testing it on ourselves that the thresholds produced are in line with the rest of our range. Validation data from the University of Queensland shows baseline thresholds of approximately 50C on mice with heat allodynia being detected at about 43C. Click here for the paper.