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Random Nanostructure Boosts Thermoelectric Power

Efficiency increase opens the door to many new applications for thermoelectric converters

4 min read

21 March 2008--Engineers and scientists in Massachusetts have managed to greatly boost the efficiency of a common material used for thermoelectric cooling that has not been improved upon in 50 years. The researchers at Boston College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who reformulated the material--bismuth antimony telluride, or BiSbTe--say that not only will the change boost the efficiency of current uses but it will also open the way to operating automobile systems on waste heat from the engine and possibly provide an alternative to solar cells for converting the sun's energy to electricity.

Zhifeng Ren, a physicist at BC, and Gang Chen, a mechanical engineer at MIT, reported on their work in today's Science Express . They say that by breaking the bulk material into tiny chunks--from 5 to 50 nanometers across--they've increased a key measure of thermoelectric conversion, called the ZT of the alloy, from 1 to 1.4.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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