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New Nanostructures Allow Control of Heat Flow for Greener Electronics

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New research published in the journal Science earlier this week reveals that heat can travel like waves through new nanostructures called ‘superlattices’.
Heat usually travels in the very difficult to control “random walk”. The team of scientists at the MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, present a method by which the flow of heat can be controlled within new materials, allowing possible shedding of heat produced by various electronic devices, without affecting their performance or destroying them.
This opens the possibility of new materials in which the flow of heat could be precisely tailored — materials that could have important applications. For example, such research might lead to new ways of shedding the heat generated by electronic devices and semiconductor lasers, which hampers performance and can even destroy the devices.
Maria Luckyanova, the graduate student who is also a lead author of the study, performed experiments that show coherent conduction of heat through the nanostructured material. The so-called ‘superlattice’ consists of alternating thin layers of gallium arsenide and aluminum arsenide, deposited via the process of metal-organic chemical vapor deposition. During this process, the chemicals are vaporized in vacuum and deposited on a surface.
According to Professor Gang Chen, another one of the authors of the study, knowing the factors that control coherence would allow breaking it more efficiently, while reducing the conduction of heat and protecting devices that are designed to conduct electricity, but should not conduct heat. The results can also be useful to manufacturers of computer chips, allowing thermal management of the devices.
Lukyanova, together with postdoc Jivtesh Garg who conducted the computer simulations, are convinced that manipulating thermal transport is achievable when these two materials are used and the thickness of the deposited layers is controlled.
In addition, these new findings provide possibilities for controlling movement of sound waves carried by longer-wavelength photons, because as Chen comments, they provide a fundamental understanding.
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