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Everyone is familiar with the idea that electric current passing through devices can heat them up. Most
of us have used appliances like electric stoves, hair dryers, and toasters that are made specifically for
heating. We've also noticed that things that run on electricity get warm when the current is turned on.
Have you ever turned this relationship around and wondered if it is possible to use heat to produce
current? Did you ever wonder if it is possible to cool things using electrical current? If so, then look no
further! Check out this project to learn about thermoelectricity.?

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he goal of this project is to investigate thermoelectricity. How much voltage can be generated
between two junctions made of different conductive materials held at different temperatures? Can you
create a temperature difference between two junctions made of different conductive materials by
passing a current through them?


hermal energy (heat) is one of the oldest forms of energy known to mankind. hermal energy is
usually a byproduct of other forms of energy such as chemical energy, mechanical energy, and
electrical energy. he process in which electrical energy is transformed into thermal energy is
called ë 
. his is what causes wires to heat up when current runs through them, and is the
basis for electric stoves, toasters, etc.

ransforming thermal energy into electrical energy is known as the    , discovered by J..
Seebeck in 1821. Seebeck discovered that making one end of a metal bar hotter or colder than the
other produced an electric voltage between the two ends. Seebeck experimented with junctions
(simple mechanical connections) made between different conducting materials. He found that if he
created a temperature difference between two electrically connected junctions (e.g., heating one of
the junctions and cooling the other) the wire connecting the two junctions would cause a compass
needle to deflect. He thought that he had discovered a way to transform thermal energy into a
magnetic field. Later it was discovered that he had created a simple electric current loop, which
produced a magnetic field. (See the Science Buddies project idea: Using a Magnet as an Electric
Current Detector.)

he magnitude of the voltage produced between two junctions depends on the materials used to
create the junctions and on the temperature difference between them. he diagram in Figure 1 shows
how you can measure the voltage that is produced. he red and black lines represent wires made of
different materials. For example, let's say the black line is an iron wire, and the red lines are copper
wires. he wires are twisted together at the points where they touch, forming a junction. One of the
junctions is heated (that's a candle, on it's side, heating the junction with it's flame), and the other is
cooled (on a block of ice). he multimeter measures the electrical potential (voltage) between the two
Figure 1. Diagram of experimental setup for measuring the Seebeck effect.

he reverse of the Seebeck effect is also possible: by passing a current through two junctions, you can
create a temperature difference. his process was discovered in 1834 by scientist named Peltier, and
thus it is called the . his may sound similar to Joule heating described above, but in fact it
is not. In Joule heating the current is only increasing the temperature in the material in which it flows.
In Peltier effect devices, a temperature difference is created: one junction becomes cooler and one
junction becomes hotter. Although Peltier coolers are not as efficient as some other types of cooling
devices, they are accurate, easy to control, and easy to adjust. Peltier effect devices are used coolers
for microelectronic devices such as microcontrollers and computer CPUs. his use is very common
among computer hobbyists to help them in over-clocking the microprocessors for more speed without
causing the CPU to overheat and break in the process.

In this starter kit we will describe how to create an experiment to demonstrate the Seebeck effect and
Peltier effects and some variations on them.


o do this project, you should do research that enables you to understand the following terms and

›? current,
›? voltage,
›? Peltier effect,
›? Seebeck effect,
›? Joule heating, and
›? thermocouple.


›? o learn about Seebeck effect check the following websites:

à? Wikipedia contributors, 2006. "hermoelectric Effect," Wikipedia, he Free
Encyclopedia [accessed May 22,
à? ´uphaldt, .R., 2003. "hermoelectricity," All About Circuits: Volume VI²Experiments
[accessed May 22, 2006]
à? , 2005. "Introduction to hermoelectrics," 
[accessed May 22, 2006]
›? For learning about the Peltier effect check the following website:
Steinbrecher, ., 2005. "he Heatsink Guide: Peltier Cooler Information,"
[accessed May 22, 2006]
›? o learn about the different thermoelectric effects check this website:
DiSalvo Group, 2003. "Introduction to hermoelectrics," Department of Chemistry and
Chemical Biology, Cornell University [accessed May 22,
›? his website describes a wristwatch that is powered from body heat, using microfabricated
thermoelectric components:
SII, 2006. "SII echnology Evolving Watch," Seiko Instruments, Inc. [accessed May 23,


o do this experiment you will need the following materials and equipment:

›? digital or analog multimeter (should have a 200 mV scale),

›? m V battery,
›? 1 kohm resistor to control the voltage (for Peltier effect experiment),
›? test leads with alligator clips,
›? a beaker or cup to hold ice or cold water,
›? candle or other heat source,
›? lengths of wire made of different metals, e.g.,
à? iron,
à? copper,
à? constantan,
à? aluminum.

he wire should be available at your local hardware store. If not, you can obtain suitable wire


  ! his science fair project requires you to hook up one or more devices in an
electrical circuit. Basic help can be found in theElectronics Primer. However, if you don't have
experience in putting together electrical circuits you may find it helpful to have someone who can
answer questions and help you troubleshoot if your project isn't working. A science teacher or parent
may be a good resource. If you need to find another mentor, try asking a local electrician, electrical
engineer, or person whose hobbies involve building things like model airplanes, trains, or cars. You
may also need to work your way up to this project by starting with an electronics project that has a
lower level of difficulty.

Before starting the experiment, do your background research so that you are knowledgeable about the
terms and concepts above.

1.? Create two junctions between two different materials (as shown in Figure 1, above) by
twisting wires firmly together. As shown in the diagram, you'll need one length of the first
material, and two lengths of the second material.
2.? Set your multimeter to the most sensitive DC voltage (usually 50 or 200 mV).
3.? Attach the multimeter leads to the two free ends (as shown in Figure 1, above.) he test leads
with alligator clips will be useful for this.
4.? Measure and record the voltage with both junctions at room temperature.

! When you connect the multimeter and circuit as shown, you may get a negative reading
on your multimeter. If you prefer to have a positive reading, simply switch the multimeter
leads around. But remember you are measuring the difference in voltage between the two
different junctions. One junction will " be more positively charged than the other
regardless of how the multimeter is connected.

5.? Insert one junction in a cold liquid or place it against an ice block and measure and record the
voltage again (leave the other junction at room temperature).
6.? Insert the other junction in hot liquid or put it in the flame of a candle. Measure and record the
voltage again.  "#c
7.? Repeat the experiment using different pairs of materials to create the junctions.
8.? Make a graph of the voltage vs. temperature difference for each kind of junction.
m.? Which pair of materials gives you the best results (i.e., highest voltage measured for the same
temperature difference)?


1.? Create pairs of junctions as described in the Seebeck effect experiment, above.

Figure 2. Diagram of experimental setup for measuring the Peltier effect.

2.? As shown in Figure 2, above, attach the 1 kohm resistor between the positive terminal of the
m V battery and one of the free wire ends. Attach the negative terminal to the other free wire
3.? o observe the temperature of the junctions, you can put a drop of water on each one. (Do
not touch the junctions! One can get hot enough to cause a burn!) Does the water freeze on
one of the junctions? What happens if you then reverse the polarity of the battery connection?
4.? Repeat the experiment with different junction materials.


›? he Seebeck effect experiment can be expanded to create a real temperature sensor. You will
need an independent means of measuring the temperature difference between the two
junctions to calibrate your device.
›? For a more advanced Peltier effect experiment, you can vary the current and measure the
temperature difference created. You'll need to figure out a method for measuring the
temperature of each junction. Use different resistors to change the current. Use Ohm's Law
( to calculate how much
current will flow in the circuit. Also calculate how much power will be dissipated in the resistor
(and be sure to use a resistor with sufficient wattage rating). Plot the temperature difference
vs. current for each type of junction.
›? Advanced. You can get a commercial Peltier effect device and study its temperature vs.
current characteristics.

›? For more science project ideas in this area of science, see Electricity & Electronics Project


By Akram Salman