Thermoelectricity was discovered in 1821 and developed into a practical technology 1950’s and 1960’s. It now provides electronic refrigeration and electronic power generation for a number of important, niche applications. Widespread use of thermoelectric technology, however, requires significant improvements in efficiency. This talk is an undergraduate level introduction to the field. After a brief discussion of applications, the physics of the Peltier effect is described, and the Figure of Merit (FOM), ZT, which controls the efficiency of a thermoelectric refrigerator or electric power generator, is discussed. The talk concludes with a brief look at the role that nanoscience may play in increasing the FOM and broadening the applications for thermoelectric technology.
Physics 238, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN