It's no secret: if your laptop sits atop your lap for an extended period of time, you're going to get burned -- okay, so maybe not burned, but you're definitely going to feel the heat. Luckily GE has been working (under contract for DARPA) on a new phase-change based thermal conductor that promises to cool electronics twice as well as copper, at one-fourth the weight. The breakthrough means big things for those of us who'd like to make babies one day, but we doubt that's why DARPA's shelling out the big bucks -- the new material functions at 10 times normal gravity, making it a shoo-in for on-board computing systems in jetliners. Using "unique surface engineered coatings" that simultaneously attract and repel water, the new nanotechnology could mean not only lighter, cooler electronics, but also an increase in computing speeds. Goodbye scrotal hyperthermia, hello cool computing! Full PR after the break.
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GE Scientists Demonstrate Breakthrough Thermal Material System to Enable Faster Computing

Develops prototype substrate for high-speed electronics that conducts heat better than copper

Faster laptops, more advanced radar systems and better aviation and naval electronic control systems all potential benefits of new technology

NISKAYUNA, N.Y., March 15, 2011 – Scientists in GE's Global Research Center have demonstrated an advanced thermal material system that could pave the way to faster computing and higher performing electronic systems. Leveraging technologies developed under GE's Nanotechnology Advanced Technology Program, they have fabricated a prototype substrate that can cool electronic devices such as a laptop computer twice as well as copper. To learn more about this breakthrough, visit http://visualization.geblogs.com/visualization/nanotech/.

Since the dawn of the electronics age, copper has been a preferred material to cool electronics because of its favorable heat conducting properties. But as electronic systems become more advanced, they are generating more and more heat. Too much heat can limit the overall performance of these systems, impacting computing speed and processing power. New breakthrough materials will be needed to enable more advanced systems and applications.

The development of GE's prototype substrate, which utilizes phase-change-based heat transfer, is part of a four year, $6 million program funded by the Defense Advanced Research Program Agency (DARPA, Contract # No. N66001-08-C-2008). As the leading organization of the program, GE Global Research has been collaborating with GE Intelligent Platforms, the Air Force Research Laboratory, and University of Cincinnati on the project.

Dr. Tao Deng, a senior scientist at GE Global Research and the project leader, said, "As electronics become more advanced, we are approaching the point where conventional materials like copper can't take the heat. For computing to go faster and electronics systems to become more capable, better cooling solutions such as GE's prototype substrate will be required to allow this to happen."

Deng added, "In demonstrations, GE's prototype substrate has functioned effectively in a variety of electronics application environments. We also subjected it to harsh conditions during testing and found it could successfully operate in extremely high gravity applications."

For more information, read Tao's blog on Edison's Desk at http://ge.geglobalresearch.com/blog/a-breakthrough-in-conducting-heat-for-electronics/.

Deng noted that GE's prototype operated in conditions experiencing more than 10 times the normal force of gravity. By comparison, this gravity force is more than twice the maximum force experienced on the world's fastest roller coasters.

How it Works

GE's phase-change based prototype substrate can be applied to computer chips and a variety of different electronic components. It acts as a cooling mechanism that spreads or dissipates the heat generated in electronic systems to keep components cool.

During testing at the Air Force Research laboratories, GE's research team successfully demonstrated a prototype substrate that was measured to have at least twice the thermal conductivity as copper at only one–fourth of its weight. In addition, the prototype successfully operated in a condition that was more than 10 times normal gravity.

With high thermal conductivity, low weight, and high "G" acceleration performance, this substrate could work well in a variety of different systems, ranging from laptop computers to larger scale, more sophisticated computing systems that run the avionics and electronic control systems on board jetliners and other aircraft.

In collaboration with various agencies from the US government, GE Global Research has been developing several advanced thermal technologies. Besides the DARPA effort, Dr. Deng is also leading a team, supported by Air Force Research Laboratory, to develop advanced thermal solutions for high-speed flight in a 1.5-year, $1 MM effort. These efforts will build a total thermal solution platform to serve multiple GE businesses, including GE Aviation, GE Energy, and GE Intelligent Platforms.

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GE's new phase-change based thermal conductor could mean cooler laptops -- literally