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Crystals could be the answer to keeping our gadgets cool

A new crystal works three times better than anything on the market.
Swapna Krishna, @skrishna
July 6, 2018
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Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Crystals won't do anything to cure diseases, despite the latest health craze floating around, but here's something they can do: cool down your computer. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Texas, Dallas, have engineered crystals that can counter the heat that electronics generate. The results will be published in Science, though the article was not online at the time of writing.

Right now, at-home systems use a combination of fans and liquid cooling (depending on how advanced they are) to keep from overheating. These are mostly effective, but fans can become clogged, and overstressed systems can generate a lot of heat. Silicon, which most computer chips are made of these days, can only do so much to dissipate it.

This new crystal-growing process creates a synthetic boron arsenide crystal, which has excellent heat management properties. This kind of crystal doesn't occur naturally, so it must be grown using a method called chemical vapor transport. "Elemental boron and arsenic are combined while in the vapor phase and then cool and condense into small crystals," said researcher Qiye Zheng in a release. "We combined extensive materials characterization and trial-and-error synthesis to find the conditions that produce crystals of high enough quality."

Their results were that boron arsenide works three times better than even the best heat dissipators that are currently on the market. This isn't a done deal; the team has to look into whether it's feasible to create boron arsenide at a large scale. But it's certainly an interesting possibility for the future of electronics.

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