Thermoelectrics and their Applications

After doing research for a couple of months, I look back at the time I first started, and its quite fascinating how much ground I have covered since then.  From the time I started, I have come quite far in terms of understanding of the subject matter.  I have gained a better understanding of what the field of thermoelectrics is all about.  Working in the lab has been awesome.  It makes me feel like everything I have learned through school, I am actually implementing in the lab.  It provides the hands on experience that every student should experience.  It is one thing when you learn things throughout school and from reading books and it is something totally different when you actually perform in the lab and apply what you learn.

I have learned about the many applications of thermoelectric materials and they are quite interesting.  However, one that really intrigues me is the application of thermoelectrics in cars.  Many car manufacturers are looking to implement thermoelectrics in their cars so that they may be able to use waste heat from the car and convert it into usable energy.  The way they would be able to do this is by using thermoelectric materials near the tail pipe of the car, where hot air produced from the engine leaves through the back of the car.  These thermoelectric materials would be able to use the temperature gradient produced and turn it into electricity that the car can use for various instruments inside it.  This is one of the many applications of thermoelectrics and how they are used in various ways.

Thermoelectrics, research, and all school related stuff put aside, it has been a quarter full of fun and learning.  I’m looking really forward to break, relaxing, and a lot of catching up on sleeping, and lastly next quarter of school and research.  I’m excited for the future, what’s to come, and being able to do research in my lab along with my group.

Also, I’d like to thank Ryan Need and Rachel Koltun for their guidance, patience, and for being great mentors helping me throughout my research experience.

My Thoughts After First Couple Months of Research

My first couple months doing research have been great.  I am doing research through CEEM in Professor Palmstrom’s lab.  Professor Palmstrom focuses in the area of Thermoelectrics.  The study of Thermoelectrics focuses on the harnessing of energy from a difference in temperature.  It can be understood as a direct conversion between electrical voltage and a temperature difference.  Therefore, given a thermoelectric device, a voltage can be measured across two different terminals on the device assuming that there is a different temperature on each side of it.  The opposite case is also true, if a voltage is applied to a thermoelectric device, it will create a temperature difference between the two terminals.  This is a brief introduction to what my research group explores.

A couple months into my research now, it has been very interesting and action packed.  My understanding of semiconductor physics has gotten much better.  Doing hands-on research provides a whole different level of education and understanding that one can achieve.  I have taken classes that go into details of semiconductor physics as well as properties of different materials, but I have realized that there is only so much one can understand just by reading about or hearing professors lecture on.   I like to think of it kind of like this.  Let’s take a mango for example.  I can give you all the information the world has to offer about a mango. I can tell you what it feels like, what it tastes like, what its color is, what its chemical composition is, and so on and so forth.  But, describing all the different information on the mango to you will never be enough to give you the sensation you would get when you actually bite into a mango and what it tastes like.  Similarly, you can read about and attend lectures about whatever you are studying as much as you want, but until you get hands on experience with it, I personally feel like you have not fully experienced what there is to learn.

The image provided shows a thermoelectric sample I am currently working on. It is Gd doped InGaAs on semi-insulating InP on which I am running high temperature measurements on.  As we can see, the thin sample is placed in the middle on a plate where I can connect 4 gold filmed pins onto small gold contacts that are on the sample.  As shown, there are four pins on this device.  There are four pins on there so that a small current can passed through the device in different directions across terminals so that the resistance on it can be measured along with other vital information such as carrier concentration, hall resistivity, mobility, and conductivity from the sample.

Well, so far research has been great! I have been learning new things daily as well as figuring out new ways to analyze information I have previously learned from school.  Working hands on with different instruments as well as different thermoelectric materials has been very interesting, and I look forward to the future and being able to do research in my lab along with my group.

Also, I’d like to thank Ryan Need and Rachel Koltun for their guidance, and for being great mentors helping me throughout my research experience.