History of The International Thermoelectric Society


Thermelectrics is defined as the science and technology associated with thermoelectric generation and refrigeration.1 The technology of thermoelectricity began during the \textquotedblleftGreat Patriotic War\textquotedblright (World War II) when the Soviet Union, under Academician Ioffe\textquoterights inspiration, produced 2\textendash4 watt thermoelectric generators to be included in a \textquotedblleftpartisan mess kit\textquotedblright and capable of powering a small radio from a small cooking fire.2 Spurred by major advances in semiconductor technology, discovery of more efficient thermoelectric semiconductor alloys, and advances in thermoelectric theory, the 1950s and 1960s witnessed significant efforts to further develop thermoelectric technology. Most of this effort was concentrated in the former Soviet Union, the United States and, to a lesser extent, Europe and Japan. This early period was characterized by rapid improvements in all areas of thermoelectrics, along with a high measure of enthusiasm. In 1961, Snyder3 listed 38 US organizations actively engaged in thermoelectric research, including many major corporations such as Whirlpool, Westinghouse, Bell Telephone, GE, Carrier and others. By the mid-1960s, practical thermoelectric devices emerged for niche specialty cooling applications (mostly aerospace) and for space power applications. Progress in efficiency improvement slowed and research peaked by about 1963 (Figure AI.1), followed by a steep decline in activity that was to continue for nearly three decades. Major US corporations shed their thermoelectric activities, in several cases resulting in start-up companies which are active to the present day (Melcor from RCA, Marlow Industries from Texas Instruments, and Global Thermoelectrics from 3M). The pattern of using thermoelectrics for niche applications requiring reliability more than efficiency has dominated the field ever since. However, this situation is likely to change with the use of this technology in the recovery of waste heat, the advent of high-performance nanostructured materials and advances in thin-film devices leading to wide-scale domestic and industrial thermoelectric applications.

Year of Publication
Series Title
Thermoelectrics Handbook: Macro to Nano
Number of Pages
pp. A1-1:7
CRC Press
Boca Raton, FL USA
ISBN Number
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