Through the nanograss

Lucent Technologies

Bell Labs today announced the launch of a new research project that aims to use nano-textured surfaces to solve the extreme thermal management challenges of advanced electronic and photonic systems.

The team will be headed by researchers from Bell Labs’ new research laboratory in Blanchardstown, Dublin. In collaboration with three Irish universities and Bell Labs researchers in Murray Hill, New Jersey, the researchers will use “nanograss”, a Bell Labs-engineered surface that contains billions of tiny silicon posts, to study the effectiveness of transferring heat from silicon surfaces to liquid coolants.

The results from these experiments could lead to important breakthroughs in cost-effective communications devices and networks. Higher processing speeds from liquid-cooled devices will support more densely packed circuits in communication devices, which could allow communication service providers to operate lower-cost broadband services.

“Nanograss”, discovered by Bell Labs researchers last year, provides a method to control the behaviour of tiny drops of liquid using silicon surfaces that resemble a lawn of evenly cut grass with “blades” that are each only a few nanometres in size.

Each post is covered with a non-stick, water-repellent surface material similar to Teflon, which allows fluids to move across the top of the posts without wetting the surface below. However, if a small amount of electrical current is applied, the droplets will sink down and wet the surface.

Researchers at the University of Limerick will use nanograss to study the basic physics of fluid flow and heat transfer in systems across super-hydrophobic surfaces on the nano scale.

Lucent said in a statement that nanograss also increases the effective area of a flat silicon surface by a factor of ten, thereby increasing the opportunities to transfer heat from the silicon a liquid. Researchers at Trinity College Dublin and researchers at the Bell Labs Centre in Ireland will conduct a fundamental study of this phenomenon.

Researchers at the Tyndall Institute of University College Cork will perform advanced modelling and optimisation of microchannels, as well as research low cost fabrication processes to ensure that the result is cost-effective for use in low cost or even consumer-grade products.