An interesting phenomenon applied in the field of instrumentation is the Seebeck effect, which is the production of a small voltage across the length of a wire due to a difference in temperature along that wire. This effect is most easily observed and applied with a junction of two dissimilar metals in contact, each metal producing a different Seebeck voltage along its length, which translates to a voltage between the two (unjoined) wire ends. Most any pair of dissimilar metals will produce a measurable voltage when their junction is heated, some combinations of metals producing more voltage per degree of temperature than others:
The Seebeck effect is fairly linear; that is, the voltage produced by a heated junction of two wires is directly proportional to the temperature. This means that the temperature of the metal wire junction can be determined by measuring the voltage produced. Thus, the Seebeck effect provides for us an electric method of temperature measurement.
When a pair of dissimilar metals are joined together for the purpose of measuring temperature, the device formed is called a thermocouple. Thermocouples made for instrumentation use metals of high purity for an accurate temperature/voltage relationship (as linear and as predictable as possible).
Seebeck voltages are quite small, in the tens of millivolts for most temperature ranges. This makes them somewhat difficult to measure accurately. Also, the fact that any junction between dissimilar metals will produce temperature-dependent voltage creates a problem when we try to connect the thermocouple to a voltmeter, completing a circuit:
Read more: Thermocouples