Researchers Create Heat-Conducting Crystals to Cool Computer Chips

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Researchers from University of Texas (UT) at Dallas created boron arsenide crystals with high thermal conductivity that can keep electronic devices from overheating.

Overheated computer chips can slow down a program or even freeze and shut down the device altogether. Smaller and powerful electronic devices generate more heat. However, current technology has limits to the amount of heat that can be dissipated from the inside out. Now, researchers from University of Texas at Dallas with collaboration from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Houston created a new semiconducting material called boron arsenide. This crystalline material inhibits extremely high thermal conductivity.

An earlier research in 2013, by Boston College predicted that boron arsenide could potentially perform as a heat spreader. Based on these findings the researchers at UT successfully produced boron arsenide crystals in 2015. However, the material had a fairly low thermal conductivity. The team then used a technique called chemical vapor transport to enhance the thermal conductivity. The technique involved placing boron and arsenic in a chamber that is hot on one end and cold on the other.  Another chemical transports these two elements from the hot end to the cooler end, where the elements combine to form crystals. The vibrations in the movement creates packets of energy called phonons that carry heat.  The high thermal conductivity of boron arsenide crystals is credited to the ability of the phonons to travel more efficiently away from the crystals. Although arsenic as an element is toxic to humans, its incorporation as boron arsenide makes it very stable and nontoxic. The researchers are working further to improve the growth and properties of boron arsenide crystals for large scale applications. The research was supported by the Office of Naval Research and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and published in the journal Science on July 05, 2018.

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