Differential Scanning Calorimetry, or DSC, is a classic thermoanalytical measurement performed on many different types of materials. In our laboratory, it is used for the analysis of polymer fiber and composite materials. In this measurement, a sample and an empty reference pan are heated together, and the amount of heat required to keep the two at the same temperature is measured. When the sample undergoes a phase transition, a change in the heat necessary to keep it at the same temperature as the reference is recorded. Some phase transitions are exothermic (e.g., crystallization) and some are enodothermic (e.g., melting). The Macrogalleria has a good explanation of how DSC is applied to the analysis of polymers: http://pslc.ws/macrog/level5.htm
Understand fundamental thermal properties of materials, track changes in these properties with ageing.