Thermal Conductivity Detector

One of the earliest gas chromatography detectors takes advantage of the mobile phase’s thermal conductivity. As the mobile phase exits the column it passes over a tungsten-rhenium wire filament (see figure below). The filament’s electrical resistance depends on its temperature, which, in turn, depends on the thermal conductivity of the mobile phase. Because of its high thermal conductivity, helium is the mobile phase of choice when using a thermal conductivity detector (TCD).


When a solute elutes from the column, the thermal conductivity of the mobile phase in the TCD cell decreases and the temperature of the wire filament, and thus it resistance, increases. A reference cell (not shown), through which only the mobile phase passes, corrects for any time-dependent variations in flow rate, pressure, or electrical power, all of which may lead to a change in the filament’s resistance.

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