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Lee’s Disc Experiment

To determine the coefficient of thermal conductivity of
a bad conductor using Lee's disc apparatus.

Lee's disc apparatus consists of a metallic disc resting on
a 5 cm deep hollow cylinder (steam chamber) of same
diameter. It has Inlet and outlet tubes for steam. In
addition, it has radial holes to insert thermometers.
Thermal conductivity is the property of a material. It
indicates the ability of a material to conduct heat. When
steam is passed through the cylindrical vessel a steady
state is reached soon. At the steady state, heat
conducted through the bad conductor is equal to heat
radiated from the Lees disc.

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.

Figure 1

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
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

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

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


dT/dt - Rate of cooling of the metallic

disc at T2.
Figure 4

Procedure for Performing Simulation:

1. Select the disc material from the drop down combo box.
2. Adjust disc's mass, height and radius by using the
3. Select the insulator from the drop down combo box.
4. Adjust the thickness of the insulator.
5. Place the insulator by clicking the 'Place Insulator'
6. After placing the insulator, start the steamer by clicking
'Start Steam' button.
7. After some time, the heat chamber temperature(T1) and
the Lee's disc temperature(T2) will become steady.
8. Then remove the object from the Lee's disc by clicking
on the 'Remove Insulator' button (the 'Place Insulator'
button will change to 'Remove Insulator' after step 5).
9. The temperature of T2 will rise again; stop the heater
when the reading of T2 reaches 10 degrees above the
steady temperature. The 'Stop Steam' button can be
used to do this.
10. Now the temperature at the Lee's disc will start to
drop. Start the stop watch, and note down the
temperature at T2 from 5 degrees above the steady
temperature to 5 degrees below that at each 30
seconds. Using these points, a graph has to be plotted
and dT/dt can be obtained from it and the Κ value can
be calculated.
11. The user can view the graph by clicking on the 'show
graph' check box.

Procedure for Real lab:

1. Determine the mean thickness of metal disc and bad
conductor with a screw gauge.
2. Determine the diameter of metal disc and bad conductor
with Vernier callipers.
3. Find the mass M of the metal disc by a balance.
4. Keep the bad conductor between metal disc and steam
5. Introduce thermometers through holes in the steam
chamber and in the metal disc.
6. Pass steam through the chamber until the temperature
indicated by thermometers become steady and note the
steady temperature.
7. Remove the bad conductor.
8. Remove the steam chamber when the temperature of
the metal disc is 10 0 C above it's steady temperature.
9. Start a stop clock and take time-temperature
observation till the temperature of the disc is 10 0 C
below its steady state.
10. Plot a time-temperature graph.

Observation And Result Table:

Aluminium Insulator Mass of Radius Thickness T1 °C T 2°C dT/dt Thermal
lee's disc lee's disc, of lee's of the from conductiv
M kg) disc, r insulator, x graph ity of
(cm) sample, k

1. Mica 0.39692 5.3 1.6 100 78.24 0.12 0.377

2. Cardboard 0.13565 4.0 1.0 100 85.25 0.12 0.19~0.2

3. Glass 0.13565 4.0 1.5 100 94.4 0.05 0.329

4. Glass 0.13565 4.0 1.0 100 96.42 0.118 0.809

Case 1: Mica as Insulator-

Case 2: Cardboard as Insulator-

Case 3: Glass As Insulator-

Case 4:Glass as insulator (different

 The thermal conductivity of a insulator
decreases with increase in thickness of
insulator (evident from the glass case).