Nanowire whiskers
Sintering is a common process for creating copper heat sinks that involves packing powdered metals into a particular shape and baking it in a vacuum. A funny thing happens though, if you leave out the vacuum part of the equation: you don't get a solid shape, but a porous pile of particles with hollow, nanowire whiskers sticking out of it. The serendipitous discovery could lead to a new way to make heat sinks for everything from CPUs to boilers at power plants. Now researchers at MIT are trying the process with practically every material they can get their hands on. Of particular interest is zirconium, which could be used with fuel rods in nuclear reactors to improve efficiency. The idea of whisker-covered heat sinks may sound strange, but the potential for improving thermal management across a range of applications is huge. Just don't try and pet it -- these things tend to get a little toasty.