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Thermoelectric phenomenon was discovered more than 180 years ago. However, it enjoyed its practical application in the middle of the XX century, 130 years later after its discovery thanks to the research work of Soviet academician Abram Ioffe.
Still, the pioneer in thermoelectrics was a German scientist Thomas Johann Seebeck (1770-1831), who was born in the Estonian town Revel. In 1822 he summarized the results of his experiments in the article called The Magnetic Polarization of Metals and Ores Produced by Temperature Difference (Magnetische Plarisation der Matalle und Erze durch Temperatur-Differenz. Abhandlungen der Preussischen Akad, Wissenschaften, pp 265-373) that was published in the Proceedings of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Seebeck discovered that if the ends of the circuit consisting of two heterogeneous metals soldered under different temperature conditions were closed, a magnetic needle placed near it would rotate as if there were a magnet applied. The angle of rotation depended on the value of the temperature difference at the circuit junctions. This physical phenomenon is referred to as the Seebeck's effect.
However two years earlier, in 1820 Hans Christian Oersted (1777-1851) proved that electrical current affected the magnetic needle. Later on as Ampere, Biot, Savart, Laplace, and other scientists studied the interaction of electrical current and magnetic field, Seebeck disclaimed the electrical nature of the phenomenon. As the name of his article demonstrates, his scientific idea concerned magnetization of materials under temperature difference. According to this hypothesis, the Earth was like a gigantic circuit where temperature difference was kept with the two cold poles and with the hot equator. At least, this was Seebeck's point of view on the Earth magnetism.
Hans Oersted, who followed the thread of Seebeck's research work with much attention, was the first who named this phenomenon thermoelectric effect. Seebeck himself insisted on the name of thermomagnetism.
Seebeck gathered much research material that dealt with circuits consisting of various combinations of hard and liquid metals, alloys and compositions of metals and effect of temperature difference on them. Basing on this research work, he founded "thermoelectric row", which is still in use along with those, which were composed later.
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