For the first couple months, I learned quite a bit about thermoelectrics and some experimental procedures. It was such a flood of information though, that a lot of it did not settle in. The last couple months (I am now in my fourth month of research with CEEM) I have really started understanding more of the details of what I have been researching. In addition to getting some of the experimental methods down, I have started understanding the bigger picture.
Recently I’ve been involved with researching the figure of merit of thermoelectric materials, which is basically just a measure of their efficiency. We have obtained data on important physical parameters, such as the carrier concentration, the mobility, the Hall coefficient, and the electrical conductivity. The figure of merit depends on all of these parameters in some shape or form, so I have been learning about the trends that certain semiconductor materials exhibit while varying temperature. We are interested in the efficiency at numerous different temperatures, although currently thermoelectrics are being looked into for higher temperatures. This is why we run our materials in both a low temperature setup (ranging from approximately 10-300K) and a high temperature setup (ranging from 300-750K). I have done quite a bit of data analysis on both low and high temperature measurements, and from this raw data I am getting a better idea of the physics behind semiconductors and thermoelectric research.
Ever since beginning research with CEEM, my opinion of research has changed drastically. I used to think it was somewhat important to my future, including building my resume and getting experience. Now I believe it is the best thing you can possibly do during your undergraduate education. Learning concepts in class and applying them to real world technology is such a massive bridge to cross, and personally, I believe that the vast majority of concepts and experience can be formulated from on the job training. While I still think forming a strong base in the classroom is important, my understanding for condensed matter physics and materials has risen exponentially since beginning this internship. If I had tried to take a theoretical approach to understanding the research being done with thermoelectrics before starting this internship, I would have had no idea where to begin. Seeing it actually done increasing my learning curve drastically, and now I can safely explain the general concepts behind the research being done here at UCSB on thermoelectrics.