'Near field' radiation promises cooler laptops

Over-heating laptops are just one symptom of a problem that afflicts all high-tech devices: how to get rid of the excess heat generated by electronic circuits.

Now researchers at IBM's Watson Research Centre and at the Ioffe Institute in St Petersburg have developed a new heat-dissipation method that offers accelerated cooling for the next-generation of carbon nanotube electronics.

Slava Rotkin, Professor of physics at the Ioffe Institute, says that a laptop in use today can generate heat faster than a kitchen hot-plate and almost as fast as a small nuclear reactor. This problem will only get worse in the future as circuits become smaller and more powerful.

Cool hunter

Rotkin's new cooling system uses nonconventional radiation in a 'near-field zone' just above the substrate, or surface, on which the nanotubes used in cutting-edge electronics rest.

Because the nanotubes and substrate are made of heterogeneous materials their rate of heat release is relatively low, similar to that of dry wood. This makes it difficult to dissipate heat from the nanotubes to the substrate through normal thermal conduction.

The new method requires that the nanotubes' substrate be composed of a polar material such as silicon-dioxide (SiO2), says Rotkin. His technology channels excess heat from the nanotubes into the substrate which, being larger, can be more effectively cooled by the vents that push cool air through laptops.

Rotkin says, "Our method enables the heat to leave the channel and move to the substrate, while also scattering the hot electrons. This constitutes a novel cooling mechanism without any moving parts or cooling agents."

The technology is still years away from commercial development but at least we can look forward to high-powered laptops in the future that don't need oven gloves to use.