Researchers from the University of Toronto Engineering in Canada, with assistance from colleagues from Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, have published new insights into how materials used in electronics transfer heat, which could lead to smaller, more powerful electronic devices capable of more efficient thermal management.
According to Dan Sellan and Professor Cristina Amon of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto Engineering, a new tool developed by the research team could give both industry and academia a better understanding of how an electronic device’s ability to dissipate heat shrinks with its size, and how materials can be structured at the nanoscale level to alter their thermal conductivity.
“In an analogy to light, phonons come in a spectrum of colors, and we have developed a new tool to measure how different color phonons contribute to the thermal conductivity of solids,” Jonathan Malen of Carnegie Mellon University said.
Using the new tool, the team examined a series of solid materials in which heat is transferred by atomic vibrations in packets known as phonons. An initial experiment revealed that as silicon microprocessors shrink, their operating temperatures are further affected by reduced thermal conductivity. Their results were published in the March 2013 edition of Nature Communications.
“Our modeling work provides an in-depth look at how individual phonons impact thermal conductivity,” Sellan added. Sellan is developing other experimental techniques for thermal measurements as a NSERC postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin.
Professor Amon believes the experiments will allow researchers to design new nanostructured thermoelectric materials with increased efficiency in converting waste heat to electrical energy.
“This work has exciting implications for the future of nano-scale thermal conductivity research,” she said.