The same year (1821) that Thomas Seebeck made his discovery about thermoelectricity (Seebeck effect, see thermocouples), Sir Humphrey Davy announced that the resistivity of metals showed a marked temperature dependence. Fifty years later, Sir William Siemens proffered the use of platinum as the element in a resistance thermometer. His choice proved most propitious, as platinum is used to this day as the primary element in all high-accuracy resistance thermometers, Pt100, Pt1000 etc.

In fact, the Platinum Resistance Temperature Detector, or RTD Pt100, is used today as an interpolation standard from the oxygen point (-182.96°C) to the antimony point (630.74°C).

Platinum is especially suited to this purpose, as it can withstand high temperatures while maintaining excellent stability. As a noble metal, it shows limited susceptibility to contamination.

First construction

The classical resistance temperature detector (RTD) construction using platinum was proposed by C.H. Meyers in 1932. He wound a helical coil of platinum on a crossed mica web and mounted the assembly inside a glass tube. This construction minimized strain on the wire while maximizing resistance.

Meyers RTD Construction Although this construction produces a very stable element, the thermal contact between the platinum and the measured point is quite poor. This results in a slow thermal response time. The fragility of the structure limits its use today primarily to that of a laboratory standard.

Strain-induced resistance changes over time and temperature are thus minimized, and the bird-cage becomes the ultimate laboratory standard. Due to the unsupported structure and subsequent susceptibility to vibration, this configuration is still a bit too fragile for industrial environments.

Design improvements

A more rugged construction technique is a bifilar wound on a glass or ceramic bobbin. The bifilar winding reduces the effective enclosed area of the coil to minimize magnetic pickup and its related noise. Once the wire is wound onto the bobbin, the assembly is then sealed with a coating of molten glass. The sealing process assures that the RTD will maintain its integrity under extreme vibration, but it also limits the expansion of the platinum metal at high temperatures. Unless the coefficients of expansion of the platinum and the bobbin match perfectly, stress will be placed on the wire as the temperature changes, resulting in a strain-induced resistance change. This may result in a permanent change in the resistance of the wire.

There are partially supported versions of the RTD which offer a compromise between the bird-cage approach and the sealed helix. One such approach uses a platinum helix threaded through a ceramic cylinder and affixed via glass-frit. These devices will maintain excellent stability in moderately rugged vibrational applications.

► SHOW RTDs (Pt100)