t’s the middle of a hot, summer day, you’re expecting guests and your air conditioner suddenly dies. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the hum of your refrigerator is growing louder as it struggles to keep watermelon slices and lemonade ice-cold. These burdens may not exist in the future thanks to thermoelectric research being conducted by Fordham’s Vassilios Fessatidis, Ph.D. Thermoelectric materials are objects roughly the size of a hard candy and their mere presence in an appliance simulates refrigeration. Using them in air conditioners and refrigerators will not only make these appliances longer lasting and silent, but they will also use less electricity, saving consumers money while helping to combat a national energy crisis. “Thermoelectric materials are good conductors of electricity but at the same time they are bad conductors of heat,” said Fessatidis, an assistant professor of physics who has been conducting theoretical research for the past three years.
“Therefore, in the refrigeration process, they expel the necessary amount of heat without relying on noisy fans, compressors or other mechanical parts to do the job.” According to Fessatidis, the easiest way to explain the process is to think of a computer. A computer processor needs to maintain a constant temperature. Since thermoelectric materials are poor conductors of heat, when they are placed in a processor, they extract the heat and carry it away. Some of the benefits of using thermoelectric materials are obvious. Since they eliminate the need for noisy moving parts, refrigerators and air conditioners will be virtually noiseless.
Also, repairing and replacing such costly appliances will be a rarity, since few mechanical parts requiring servicing will be used. Other benefits may not be as obvious. For example, air conditioners will no longer need to rely on harmful Freon gas, which expels dangerous chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the atmosphere. Also, given concern about the national energy shortage, thermoelectric materials require significantly less amounts of electricity. In addition to refrigeration, thermoelectric materials can also be used as power generators.
When a connection is made between thermoelectric materials of different temperatures, an electric current is produced. According to Fessatidis, such usage of electricity will be of great benefit to the space program, since they will not have to rely exclusively on solar panels for their energy needs. “People are constantly being bullied by their appliances and the environment is also suffering as a result,” said Fessatidis. “Hopefully, my work will play some part in making people’s lives a little better.”