The thermocouple is a ubiquitous and highly valuable tool when it comes to the technology of measuring temperature. It is a sensor that accurately measures temperature and plays a key role in a variety of industries.

Define thermocouple

A thermocouple is a temperature sensor used to measure temperature. It is based on the Seebeck effect and utilizes two different metal wires to form a joint that is capable of generating a voltage signal that is linearly related to temperature.

Basic thermocouple construction

A thermocouple consists of two different metal wires that are connected into a joint (thermocouple solder joint) that is usually exposed to the environment where the temperature is to be measured. The other end is connected to a thermometer(WSS Temperature Bimetal Thermometer) or reading device. Different types of thermocouples use different combinations of metal materials, for example, the common type K thermocouple uses nickel-chromium-iron alloy and nickel-aluminum alloy.

Bimetal thermometers for temperature measurement
Bimetal thermometers for temperature measurement

How do thermocouples work?

When two different metals come into contact at a joint, if the two metals have different temperatures at their ends, a difference in electrical potential, known as the thermoelectric potential, results. The magnitude of this thermal potential is proportional to the difference in temperature of the joint. This phenomenon is known as the Seebeck effect.

Because the thermopotential is so small, it is often necessary to use a connection circuit to amplify the signal. Converting the resulting voltage signal to a temperature reading requires calibration because the thermopotential is related not only to the temperature difference, but also to the properties of the thermocouple material.

Thermocouples for thermometers
Thermocouples for thermometers

Types of thermocouples

Different types of thermocouples utilize different combinations of metals, and each type has its own specific temperature range and area of application. Below are a few common thermocouple types and their characteristics:

TypeMaterial CompositionCharacteristicsApplication Range
K-TypeNickel-Chromium alloy, Nickel-Aluminum alloyHigh temperature range (-200°C to 1,372°C), good linearity and stabilityIndustrial settings, high-temperature measurements (furnace temperature, melting temperatures)
J-TypeIron alloy, Copper alloyLow temperature range (-210°C to 1,204°C), resistance to oxidationLow-temperature environments, applications requiring high linearity (refrigeration units, food processing)
T-TypeCopper-Silver alloy, Copper-Nickel alloyLower temperature range (-250°C to 400°C), good stability and linearityRelatively lower temperature measurements (laboratory settings, medical devices)
E-TypeNickel-Chromium alloy, Nickel-Copper alloyLow to moderate temperature range (-270°C to 1,000°C), stable in high humidity, higher sensitivityEnvironments with higher humidity (food processing, chemical experiments)
Different types of thermocouples and their characteristics

Principle of operation of thermocouples

Why is voltage generated at temperature differences?

The Seebeck effect is a physical phenomenon that describes the generation of a voltage between two different metal conductors or semiconductors at a difference in temperature. A voltage is generated when two different metals or semiconductors form a closed loop and there is a temperature difference in temperature. This phenomenon is due to the fact that different metals or semiconductors have different electronic structures, and therefore their electrons move at different rates under thermal excitation.

Under thermal excitation, the electrons in the metal or semiconductor gain a certain amount of energy, causing them to move inside the material. When two different materials come into contact and form a circuit, the two ends at different temperatures cause the electrons in these materials to move at different rates. Such different rates of movement result in differences in the electron clouds near the joints, creating a potential difference.

This potential difference is known as the thermopotential, and the potential difference created in the Seebeck effect causes an electric charge to flow from one material to the other, thus creating an electric field between the two materials that is eventually converted into a voltage signal. This voltage signal can be measured by a thermocouple and is proportional to the difference in temperature. Thus, the Seebeck effect explains why a potential difference between two different metals or semiconductors at a difference in temperature produces a voltage.

Voltage versus temperature

There is a linear relationship between thermopotential and temperature which can be used to measure temperature. According to the Seebeck effect, the thermopotential generated by a thermocouple is directly proportional to the temperature difference between the two endpoints. This means that when the two endpoints of a thermocouple are at different temperatures, the magnitude of the thermoelectric potential generated is directly related to the temperature difference between them.

Specifically, the thermocouple works on the basis that two different metal wires form a joint, and the difference in temperature at this joint results in the generation of a thermoelectric potential. This thermal potential is relatively small and generally needs to be amplified by a circuit before it can be accurately measured. Once the voltage generated by the thermocouple has been measured, the voltage value can be converted to a corresponding temperature reading using a pre-established calibration curve or a specific temperature-voltage relationship table.

This conversion process involves a linear relationship between temperature and voltage that is calibrated and determined at the time the thermocouple is manufactured. Therefore, by measuring the voltage produced by a thermocouple and utilizing a pre-established calibration curve or table, the difference in temperature between the two end points of the thermocouple can be accurately determined, allowing for temperature measurement and recording.

Thermocouple applications and benefits


  • High temperature furnace temperature measurement: Used to monitor furnace temperatures during metal melting and heat treatment processes.
  • Production process control: In manufacturing, thermocouples are used to monitor temperatures in a variety of production processes such as hot pressing, melting and welding.

Scientific research

  • Laboratory temperature measurement: In chemistry, physics and biology experiments, thermocouples are used to accurately measure the temperature of laboratory environments and experimental samples.
  • Scientific instruments: Thermocouples are widely used in a variety of scientific instruments to ensure temperature control and accuracy of experiments.

Food processing

  • Baking and cooking: In baking food, cooking process, thermocouples are used to monitor the temperature of ovens, grills and cooking equipment to ensure food cooking quality and safety.
  • Food processing industry: used to monitor temperatures in food processing equipment such as hot water baths, freezing equipment, etc. to ensure quality and hygiene standards in food production.

Medical equipment:

  • Medical monitoring: thermocouples are used in medical equipment such as thermometers, thermistors, etc. to measure body temperature to diagnose diseases and monitor health status.

Environmental monitoring

  • Temperature monitoring: In environmental monitoring, thermocouples are used to measure the temperature of air, water or soil in order to analyze environmental changes and monitor climate.

Overview of thermocouple benefits

Thermocouples offer several advantages as a temperature sensor, making them popular for a variety of applications:

  1. Durability: Thermocouples are usually made of metal and have good durability and long term stability, and can be used in harsh environments for long periods of time without being easily damaged.
  2. Fast response time: thermocouples have high sensitivity and fast response to temperature changes, and can quickly and accurately reflect temperature changes, making them particularly suitable for application scenarios that require instant temperature feedback.
  3. Wide temperature range: different types of thermocouples are suitable for different temperature ranges, from very low to very high temperatures are covered, so that it can meet the temperature measurement needs of various applications.
  4. Adapt to a variety of environments: thermocouples perform well in a variety of environmental conditions, including high temperature, low temperature, high pressure, high humidity, and corrosive environments, etc., with a strong ability to adapt to the environment.
  5. Accuracy and stability: thermocouples have high measurement accuracy and stability, excellent performance in temperature measurement, especially for high temperature measurement provides reliable accuracy.
Thermocouple applications and benefits
Thermocouple applications and benefits


Thermocouple, the tiny temperature detector, plays a huge role. Its accuracy, fast response and wide applicability play a key role not only in industry and science, but also in everyday life in food processing and medical devices.

Apure offers temperature sensors, temperature controllers, temperature transmitters, in addition to these, water quality monitoring instruments, flow meters and level measurement, etc., if you need you can come and consult us.