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The principle of thermoelectricity

discovered by the GermanEstonian
physicist Thomas Johann Seebeck in
1821 while studying the
electromagnetic effects on metals. He
found that when two dissimilar metals
are joined in a closed circuit an
electromotive force is generated if the
two junctions are maintained at
different temperatures. This thermal
emf induces an electric current to flow
continuously through the circuit and is
termed Seebeck emf in honor of its

Thomas Johann Seebeck

(April 9, 1770 December 10, 1831) He
was a physicist who in 1821 discovered
the thermoelectric effect.

Thermoelectricity is the basis for one of

the most commonly used temperature
measuring devices the

A thermocouple is a junction
between two different metals that
produces a voltage related to a
temperature difference.
Thermocouples are a widely used type
of temperature sensor and can also be
used to convert heat into electric
power. They are inexpensive and
interchangeable, have standard
connectors, and can measure a wide
range of temperatures. The main
limitation is accuracy: system errors of
less than one Kelvin (K) can be
difficult to achieve.

T = T2 T1

A schematic diagram of two electrical

conductors, A & B, whose junctions are exposed
to different temperatures, T1 & T2. The thermal
emf generated in this circuit Eab, is expressed as:
Eab = [A, B, (T2-T1)]

In practice, the junction used to

measure temperature is called the
measuring junction or sometimes
called the hot junction because hot
temperatures are commonly
The other junction is called the
tolerance junction or sometimes
cold junction, because it is located
in an ambient location, and inside
the receiving instrument to which
the thermocouple is connected.

Thermoelectric Laws
Based on decades of practical
experience and numerous
investigations by measurement of
the current, voltage, and resistance,
the following laws apply:
The law of the homogenous
material or circuit
The law of the intermediate
materials or metals
The law of successive or
intermediate temperatures

Law of homogeneous Circuit

A thermoelectric current cannot be
sustained in a circuit of a single
homogeneous material by the
application of heat alone, regardless
of how it might vary in cross section.
In other words, temperature changes
in the wiring between the input and
output do not affect the output
voltage, provided the wire is made of
a thermocouple alloy.

Law of intermediate metals

The algebraic sum of the
thermoelectric forces in a circuit
composed of any number of
dissimilar materials is zero if all of
the junctions are at a uniform
temperature. So If a third metal is
inserted in either wire A or B and if
the two new junctions are at the
same temperature, there will be no
net voltage generated by the new

Law of intermediate temperatures

If two dissimilar homogeneous

materials produce thermal emf1
when the junctions are at T1 and
T2 and produce thermal emf2
when the junctions are at T2 and
T3, the emf generated when the
junctions are at T1 and T3 will be
emf1 + emf2.

The three fundamental laws can be

combined and stated as follows: the

algebraic sum of the thermoelectric

EMFs generated in any given circuit
containing any number of dissimilar
homogenous metals is a function only
of the temperature of the junctions.

The corollary follows: if all but

one the junctions the thermal EMF

generated depends only on the
temperature of that one junction and
can be used as a measure of its