Resistance thermometers, also called resistance temperature detectors (RTDs), are sensors used to measure temperature. Many RTD elements consist of a length of fine wire wrapped around a ceramic or glass core but other constructions are also used. The RTD wire is a pure material, typically platinum, nickel, or copper. The material has an accurate resistance/temperature relationship which is used to provide an indication of temperature. As RTD elements are fragile, they are often housed in protective probes.

RTDs, which have higher accuracy and repeatability, are slowly replacing thermocouples in industrial applications below 600 °C

Resistance/temperature relationship of metals

Common RTD sensing elements constructed of platinum, copper or nickel have a repeatable resistance versus temperature relationship (R vs T) and operating temperature range. The R vs T relationship is defined as the amount of resistance change of the sensor per degree of temperature change.[2] The relative change in resistance (temperature coefficient of resistance) varies only slightly over the useful range of the sensor.

Platinum was proposed by Sir William Siemens as an element for resistance temperature detector at the Bakerian lecture in 1871:[3] it is a noble metal and has the most stable resistance–temperature relationship over the largest temperature range. Nickel elements have a limited temperature range because the amount of change in resistance per degree of change in temperature becomes very non-linear at temperatures over 572 °F (300 °C). Copper has a very linear resistance–temperature relationship; however, copper oxidizes at moderate temperatures and cannot be used over 302 °F (150 °C).