Lee disc method

The Lee’s Disc experiment determines an approximate value for the thermal conductivity k of a poor conductor like glass, cardboard, etc. The procedure is to place a disc made of the poor conductor, radius r and thickness x, between a steam chamber and two good conductivity metal discs (of the same metal) and allow the setup to come to equilibrium, so that the heat lost by the lower disc to convection is the same as the heat flow through the poorly conducting disc. The upper disc temperature T2 and the lower disc temperature T1 are recorded. The poor conductor is removed and the lower metal disc is allowed to heat up to the upper disc temperature T2. Finally, the steam chamber and upper disc are removed and replaced by a disc made of a good insulator. The metal disc is then allowed to cool through T1 < T2 and toward room temperature T0. The temperature of the metal disc is recorded as it cools so a cooling curve can be plotted. Then the slope s1 =ΔT/Δt  of the cooling curve is measured graphically where the curve passes through temperature T1.

Lee disc method


At the steady state, rate of heat transfer (H) by conduction is given by;


k         – Thermal conductivity of the sample

A         – Cross sectional area,

T2 – T1  -Temperature difference across the sample.

x          -Thickness of the bad conductor (see figure 1)

The sample is an insulator . It is in the form of a thin disc with large cross sectional area (A = πr2) compared to the area exposed at the edge (a = 2πrx) in order to reduce the energy loss. Rate of energy transfer across the sample can be  increased by keeping ‘x ‘small and ‘A ‘large. Keeping x  small  means  the apparatus will reach a steady state quickly.

Figure 2
Lee disc method

The thin sample of disc is sandwiched between the brass disc and brass base of the steam chamber (see figure 2). The temperature of the brass disc is measured by thermometer T1 and the temperature of the brass base is measured by thermometer T2  . In this way the temperature difference across such a thin disc of sample can be accurately measured.

Figure 3
Lee disc method

The temperatures T1 and T2 are constant when the apparatus is in steady state. Then  the rate of heat conducted through the brass disc must be equal to the rate of heat loss due to cooling  from the bottom of the brass disc by air convection. By measuring how fast the brass disc cools at the steady state temperature T1, the rate of heat loss can be determined. It shown in figure 3. If the disc cools down at a rate, then the rate of heat loss is given by:


m- mass of the brass disc

c  – specific heat capacity of brass.

At steady state, heat conducted through the bad conductor per second will be equal to heat radiated per second from the exposed portion of the metallic disc.


k – Coefficient of thermal conductivity of the sample,

A – Area of the sample in contact with the metallic disc,

x – Thickness of the sample,

T2– T1 -Temperature difference across the sample thickness,

m – Mass of the metallic disc,

c – The Heat capacity of the metallic disc,

dT/dt  – Rate of cooling of the metallic disc at  T2.

Figure 4
Lee disc method


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