Discovery may help prevent small electronics from overheating

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Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder have made a new discovery that explains why small heat sources cool faster when placed near each other.

The results of the study will be published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Professors Margaret Murnane and Henry Kapteyn led the research, which began in 2015. Their team was experimenting with laser-heated nanoscale lines – tiny metallic lines thinner than human hair – modeled on silicon when they observed that these heat sources cooled faster when pressed together. .

“Usually, if you want to cool something, you surround it with a cold material,” Murnane said. “In a surprising experimental discovery, we found that for nanoscale hotspots, instead of expanding them to be in contact with cold materials, you wrap them closer to each other to cool more. quickly, which is very counterintuitive.

Now, researchers have discovered why this phenomenon occurs.

Co-author Joshua Knobloch, postdoctoral research assistant at JILA, a joint institute of CU Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said the reason nanolines cool faster this way is because energy vibrational atoms scatter each other. and cool hot bars faster when they are pressed together.

“It’s a very counterintuitive idea for us because it goes against the way we generally think about thermal transport,” Knobloch said. “And I think that’s why it’s such a really amazing find. It’s a bit revolutionary that way. It goes against common thinking.

In this new study, the researchers used computer simulations to model each atom in a system to track heat dissipation.

This study was a collaborative effort of two teams, one led by Murnane and the other led by CU Boulder professor Mahmoud Hussein, co-author of the study. Murnane’s group used x-ray light beams to observe the behavior of materials more precisely than what can be seen using visible light. Hussein’s group studied atomic-scale theory and simulations to understand the behavior of materials related to heat and temperature.

Knobloch said this research can be applied to many technology applications, including making computer chips and cell phones that don’t get hot as much.

The researchers said the findings could have an impact on the future of electronics. They hope that their study will inspire further research and development of models and experimental investigations into thermal transport.

Hussein said these findings are important for two reasons: the continuing problem of the high concentration of high-temperature zones in modern devices and the high-tech industry’s continued quest to make electronics smaller and more efficient. . These issues are at the heart of what the researchers discuss in their article.

“I think this could potentially impact the future of electronic miniaturization,” Hussein said. “The industry is continually looking to make devices smaller and smaller. So with this discovery there will be a better understanding of how to handle heat in the ever smaller size of electronics.

Other contributors to this study include postdoctoral researcher Hossein Honarvar, JILA graduate student Brendan McBennett, and former JILA researchers Travis Frazer, Jorge Hernandez-Charpak and Begoña Abad.

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