Engineers enhance thin-film thermal conductivity

Engineers have found a way to tune and enhance the thermal conductivity of thin-film materials and claim it could be used for better thermal management in a range of applications.

A team of engineers from Vanderbilt University discovered that the thermal conductivity of a pair of thin strips of material called boron nanoribbons could be enhanced by up to 45 per cent depending on the process that they used to stick the two ribbons together.

Although the research was conducted with boron nanoribbons, the team believes the results are generally applicable to other thin-film materials.

‘This points at an entirely new way to control thermal effects that is likely to have a significant impact in microelectronics on the design of smart phones and computers, in optoelectronics on the design of lasers and LEDs, and in a number of other fields,’ said Greg Walker, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University.

Analysis showed that the force that holds the two nanoribbons together is a weak electrostatic attraction called the van der Waals force, which is the same force that allows a gecko to walk up walls. The team believes that one of the first areas where this knowledge is likely to be applied is in thermal management of microelectronic devices such as computer chips.

‘A better understanding of thermal transport across interfaces is the key to achieving better thermal management of microelectronic devices,’ said Deyu Li, one of the project collaborators at Vanderbilt.

Another area where the finding could be important is in the design of nanocomposites that are being developed for use in flexible electronic devices, structural materials for aerospace vehicles and a variety of other applications.