Engineers from the University of Chicago have created a new technique to develop innovative materials that function as thermal insulators and can also conduct heat in different directions, in both cases with great efficiency and on a microscale. They could help protect the sectors most sensitive to high temperatures on laptops or mobile computers, for example.
The heat is present in any action, as the energy generated by a movement unfolds naturally. However, one of the great engineering challenges is to move heat where it is needed and remove it from spaces where it is not welcome. If it were that simple, there would be no problem heating a house or cooling an overheated engine.
However, at the moment that “Holy Grail” of engineering has not been created, although perhaps the new research may mark an important advance in this regard, as can be seen in the conclusions of the study, recently published in the journal Nature. Furthermore, progress has been made at the microscopic level , at a time when many computing and electronic devices tend to get smaller and smaller.
THE MICROSCALE HEAT PROBLEM
In this class of appliances, when the heat cannot escape we can be in serious trouble: the batteries overheat and the devices become ineffective, also reducing their useful life. Consequently, developing materials that can better manage heat is one of the most important needs of the electronics industry.
Now, the new material offers hope: it demonstrates an excellent answer to isolate some sectors of the heat and direct it in other directions. The new technique uses ultra – thin layers of crystalline sheets, placed one on top of the other.
When each layer is rotated slightly, the atoms that make up the material line up in a specific direction. Because of this, the material can be “redesigned” for each objective: some sectors are optimized to block heat , while others function as “sliding panels” to carry heat to other locations .
The atomic organization is different in each area: in some layers the material will present unique characteristics, which will be completely different in others. Thanks to this condition, the new material can protect some sectors from heat and use others to conduct and release it.
Related topic: They manage to manage heat and sound with magnets.
INSULATOR AND CONDUCTOR AT THE SAME TIME
According to a press release , there is no material in nature that manages to combine excellent results in terms of thermal insulation and thermal conductivity , obtaining it at the same time and in different directions. Thus, the new technique could open an unprecedented path, specifically with regard to microscopic devices capable of intelligently managing heat.
In other words, a device equipped with these materials could be able to reduce the heat in the battery sector, preventing it from overheating, but at the same time it would be able to lead it to other sectors that are not dangerous for its operation.
The specialists highlighted that the tests carried out with the new material show a thermal insulation effectiveness close to that of air , considered one of the best insulators known. At the same time, the material showed high efficiency in transporting heat in different directions.