MRS Bulletin

Technical Feature

Technical Feature

Thermoelectric Materials, Phenomena, and Applications: A Bird's Eye View

Terry M. Tritt and M. A. Subramanian


High-efficiency thermoelectric (TE) materials are important for power-generation devices that are designed to convert waste heat into electrical energy.They can also be used in solid-state refrigeration devices.The conversion of waste heat into electrical energy may play an important role in our current challenge to develop alternative energy technologies to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

An overview of various TE phenomena and materials is provided in this issue of MRS Bulletin. Several of the current applications and key parameters are defined and discussed.Novel applications of TE materials include biothermal batteries to power heart pacemakers, enhanced performance of optoelectronics coupled with solid-state TE cooling, and power generation for deep-space probes via radioisotope TE generators.A number of different systems of potential TE materials are currently under investigation by various research groups around the world, and many of these materials are reviewed in the articles in this issue.These range from thin-film superlattice materials to large single-crystal or polycrystalline bulk materials, and from semiconductors and semimetals to ceramic oxides.The phonon-glass/electron-crystal approach to new TE materials is presented, along with the role of solid-state crystal chemistry.Research criteria for developing new materials are highlighted.


  • energy;
  • thermal conductivity;
  • thermoelectricity

Terry M. Tritt, Guest Editor for this issue of MRS Bulletin, is a professor of physics at Clemson University. He received both his BA degree (1980) and his PhD degree (1985) in physics from Clemson University and then went to the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) under a National Research Council postdoctoral fellowship. He subsequently became a staff scientist at NRL, where he remained for 11 years before joining the faculty at Clemson in 1996. His primary research expertise lies in electrical and thermal transport properties and phenomena, and especially in measurement and characterization techniques in novel materials. He has extensive expertise in thermoelectric materials and measurement science and has built an internationally known laboratory for the measurement and characterization of thermoelectric material parameters, particularly thermal conductivity. He has recently become involved in the synthesis and characterization of thermoelectric nanomaterials.

Tritt has served as lead organizer of three Materials Research Society symposia on thermoelectric materials, edited the three-volume Recent Trends in Thermoelectric Materials Research (Academic Press, 2000), and also recently edited a book published by Kluwer Press on thermal conductivity. He has been a member of the executive board of the International Thermoelectric Society (ITS) since 1999 and served as chair and host of the 24th International Conference on Thermoelectrics (ICT-2005) at Clemson in June 2005. He has written more than 140 journal publications and regularly gives invited presentations at national and international meetings.

Tritt can be reached at Clemson University, Department of Physics, 103 Kinard Laboratory, Clemson, SC 29634, USA; tel. 864-656-5319 and e-mail

M.A. Subramanian, Guest Editor for this issue of MRS Bulletin, is a research fellow at DuPont Central Research and Development. He holds BS and MS degrees in chemistry from the University of Madras in India and received his PhD degree in solid-state chemistry in 1982 from the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, where he focused on synthesis and solid-state studies of oxides with pyrochlore and perovskite structures. He subsequently joined the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M University as an NSF postdoctoral fellow, where he worked on designing new fast ion conductors for solidstate batteries. He joined DuPont in 1985 as a scientist and was recently appointed to research fellow. Subramanian's current interests include the design and understanding of structure-property relationships in new solid-state inorganic functional materials related to superconductivity, colossal magnetoresistive materials, high-κ and low-κ dielectrics, ferroelectrics, multiferroics, oxyfluorination, and thermoelectrics.

Subramanian is a visiting professor at the Institut de Chimie de la Matière Condensée de Bordeaux (ICMCB), University of Bordeaux, France. He serves as editor for Solid State Sciences and Progress in Solid State Chemistry, and serves or has served on the editorial boards of the Materials Research Bulletin, Chemistry of Materials, and the Journal of Materials Chemistry. He was awarded the Charles Pedersen Medal by DuPont in 2004 for his outstanding scientific, technological, and business contributions to the company. He has authored more than 200 publications and holds 42 U.S. patents, with 10 applications pending.

Subramanian can be reached at DuPont Central Research and Development, Experimental Station, E328/219, Wilmington, DE 19880-0328, USA; tel. 302-695-2966 and e-mail