August 15, 2018
Anyone who has ever felt their laptop toast their lap or their smartphone suddenly become a hot potato in their hands can understand that electronics need a way to stay cool.
The more powerful our devices become, the more heat they generate. In fact, certain bleeding edge electronics are so reliant on cooling that they would stop working without it. To continue to produce more powerful electronics, there needs to be a significant advance in how we keep them cool. And, we’re running out of practical cooling solutions needed to develop next-generation electronic devices.
This summer, Associate Professor Shalabh Maroo received a $500,000 grant from Office of Naval Research to conduct new research on exactly that.
Q. Why do laptops and phones get so hot?
A. No electronic device can be 100 percent efficient. It isn’t physically possible. Take smartphones for example. We cannot convert all of the battery’s electrical energy into powering the phone. The extra energy becomes heat. Hence, all electronic devices become hot and we need a way to remove that heat.
Q. Why is thermal management so crucial to developing new technology?
A. With new fabrication technology, billions of transistors can be built into a single chip processor. That creates a tremendous amount of heat during operation. New tech will generate more heat than it can withstand.
In this work, the size of processor’s surface area becomes very important. Certain powerful new processors generate as much as 10 watts of heat per square-centimeter of area. That may seem small, but it is a big deal by comparison. A clothes iron generates just 5 watts of heat per square-centimeter of area and reaches a surface temperature of over 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Further, very localized spots in the processor can even generate heat over 100 or 1000 watts per square-centimeter of area.
Plus, we want to make our processors smaller and smaller. Removing 10 or 100 or 1000 watts of heat from a square-centimeter of area is far more challenging than removing the same amount of heat from a square-meter of area. Advancements in cooling techniques are thus essential.
Q. What is your approach with your research, Phase Change in High-Density Confined Liquids for Thermal Management?
A. Our research aims to understand and develop a thermal technology which can provide cooling of more than 1000 watts per square-centimeter of area while also keeping the device’s temperature within an operational range. The fundamental research aims to investigate phase change heat transfer in liquid-filled small-sized micro/nano channels using experiments, molecular dynamics simulations, and continuum simulations.
Such a cooling technology could possibly assist in the development of terahertz processors which could be 1000 times faster than the current gigahertz processors.
Q. This is a significant amount of funding. How does this fit into your lab’s mission?
A. We are very excited! The research contributions of An Zou, a research assistant professor, and Manish Gupta, a mechanical engineering Ph.D. student, helped bring this grant to our lab. Together, we aim to understand the fundamentals of phase change heat transfer in small channels through this research work. We hope our work will shape the development of a cooling technology which can significantly advance thermal management of electronics.