Illustration of a UCLA-developed solid-state thermal transistor using an electric field to control heat movement. Credit: H-Lab/UCLA
Topics: Applied Physics, Battery, Chemistry, Electrical Engineering, Energy, Thermodynamics
A new thermal transistor can control heat as precisely as an electrical transistor can control electricity.
From smartphones to supercomputers, electronics have a heat problem. Modern computer chips suffer from microscopic “hotspots” with power density levels that exceed those of rocket nozzles and even approach that of the sun’s surface. Because of this, more than half the total electricity burned at U.S. data centers isn’t used for computing but for cooling. Many promising new technologies—such as 3-D-stacked chips and renewable energy systems—are blocked from reaching their full potential by errant heat that diminishes a device’s performance, reliability, and longevity.
“Heat is very challenging to manage,” says Yongjie Hu, a physicist and mechanical engineer at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Controlling heat flow has long been a dream for physicists and engineers, yet it’s remained elusive.”
But Hu and his colleagues may have found a solution. As reported last November in Science, his team has developed a new type of transistor that can precisely control heat flow by taking advantage of the basic chemistry of atomic bonding at the single-molecule level. These “thermal transistors” will likely be a central component of future circuits and will work in tandem with electrical transistors. The novel device is already affordable, scalable, and compatible with current industrial manufacturing practices, Hu says, and it could soon be incorporated into the production of lithium-ion batteries, combustion engines, semiconductor systems (such as computer chips), and more.
Scientists Finally Invent Heat-Controlling Circuitry That Keeps Electronics Cool, Rachel Newur, Scientific American