The October 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Super Soaker Inventor Invents New Thermoelectric Generator

Lonnie Johnson has moved on from high-powered squirt guns to a chip that converts heat from the sun--or anything else--into electricity

4 min read

20 March 2008—His best-known invention, a high-powered water pistol, is a fun solution to a hot day in the sun, but to Lonnie Johnson, the potential of solar energy is no laughing matter. ”The sun is the only source that will be able to meet future terawatt levels of power demand, as more and more countries become industrialized and seek to improve their standard of living,” says Johnson, who is also the founder of Johnson Electro Mechanical Systems, in Atlanta. Harnessing the sun’s energy, of course, is easier said than done. But Johnson has developed a new kind of device that converts heat into electric current. He says it has the potential to be the best-ever method of converting solar energy into a form that we can use.

Among the potential applications are at utility-scale solar thermal farms and for plug-in hybrid vehicles, in which the device would use waste heat from the car’s internal combustion engine to help power the car’s electric motor. Johnson even envisions a day when miniaturized versions will power consumer electronics. Imagine your laptop producing power from its own waste heat, your cellphone being charged as you hold the handset against your face, or an implantable medical device exploiting the difference in temperature between, say, your chest cavity and the skin on your arm.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

3D-Stacked CMOS Takes Moore’s Law to New Heights

When transistors can’t get any smaller, the only direction is up

10 min read
An image of stacked squares with yellow flat bars through them.
Emily Cooper
Green

Perhaps the most far-reaching technological achievement over the last 50 years has been the steady march toward ever smaller transistors, fitting them more tightly together, and reducing their power consumption. And yet, ever since the two of us started our careers at Intel more than 20 years ago, we’ve been hearing the alarms that the descent into the infinitesimal was about to end. Yet year after year, brilliant new innovations continue to propel the semiconductor industry further.

Along this journey, we engineers had to change the transistor’s architecture as we continued to scale down area and power consumption while boosting performance. The “planar” transistor designs that took us through the last half of the 20th century gave way to 3D fin-shaped devices by the first half of the 2010s. Now, these too have an end date in sight, with a new gate-all-around (GAA) structure rolling into production soon. But we have to look even further ahead because our ability to scale down even this new transistor architecture, which we call RibbonFET, has its limits.

Keep Reading ↓Show less
{"imageShortcodeIds":[]}