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thermoelectric generator(ther-moh-i-lek -trik) A device that converts heat directly into electric power. It consists basically of two dissimilar metals or semiconductors joined at two junctions: if the junctions are at different temperatures an electromotive force (e.m.f.) develops between the junctions. An e.m.f. can also be generated between two regions on one piece of metal when a temperature difference exists between the regions. In both cases the e.m.f. is proportional to the temperature difference and is also dependent on the materials used. The e.m.f. can be used to power an external electric circuit. Thermoelectric generators are used in long-range planetary probes when solar cells are unable to produce sufficient power. The hot junction or region of the device is then often heated by means of the decay of a radioactive substance; this is the radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG).
thermoelectric generator[¦thər·mō·i′lek·trik ′jen·ə‚rād·ər]