April 29, 2014

Solving a mystery of thermoelectrics

New analysis explains why some materials are good thermal insulators while similar ones are not.

Materials that can be used for thermoelectric devices — those that turn a temperature difference into an electric voltage — have been known for decades. But until now there has been no good explanation for why just a few materials work well for these applications, while most others do not. Now researchers at MIT and elsewhere say they have finally found a theoretical explanation for the differences, which could lead to the discovery of new, improved thermoelectric materials.