Last year I bought a "Hello Kitty" mini-refrigerator for my daughter. Alas, it's a bit too pink to suit her taste, and she has no real need for it, living at home as she now does. So after the unit sat in its box for some months I "ungifted" it (with her permission) and took it in to the office, where it has attracted no small attention and has enhanced my reputation for idiosyncracy. The wee 'fridge only holds a can of soda, a sandwich, and maybe a fruit or two. Since it doesn't get terribly cold one can't store perishables in it for long. It's just a handy place to keep lunch or a snack.

But what's most interesting (to me) about this "Hello Kitty" appliance is how it works: thermoelectric cooling. Run a current through a circuit made of two dissimilar materials. One of the junctions where the different kinds of wires meet will become warm, and the other will get cool. This fascinating phenomenon is called the Peltier Effect, first observed in 1834 by a French researcher of that name.

Which leads to the real reason for this note: at a going-away party last month, my boss's boss was chatting with me and asked how the little "Hello Kitty" refrigerator worked. I not only managed to explain it to him in terms which seemed to satisfy a non-physicist ("It's a heat pump that uses electrons instead of Freon...") — I actually dredged up the words "Peltier Effect" from the old ^z subconscious and thereby impressed a technically-savvy colleague who was lurking nearby.

Ah, the life-long value of a science education!

(for another personal triumph of techno-trivia recollection see FoxyFables (23 Apr 2002), ...)

Education, maybe, but it is more the attitude of curiosity and willingness to always learn.

TopicPersonalHistory - TopicScience - 2007-06-24

(correlates: Comments on UncleBert, PerimeterFocused, Appliances All the Way Down, ...)