Boffins build tiny on-chip cooling system

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Boffins build tiny on-chip cooling system

Ion pump sets new standard in cooling microelectronic components.

US computer engineers have built a cooling device tiny enough to fit on a computer chip.

Boffins at the University of Washington said that the breakthrough technology, which uses an electrical charge to create a cooling air jet right at the surface of the chip, could work reliably and efficiently with the smallest microelectronic components.

"With this pump, we are able to integrate the entire cooling system right onto a chip," said Alexander Mamishev, associate professor of electrical engineering and principal investigator on the project.

"This allows for cooling in applications and spaces where it just wasn't realistic before."

The device uses an electrical field to accelerate air to speeds previously possible only with the use of traditional cooling fans. Trial runs showed that the prototype significantly cooled an actively heated surface on just 0.6 watts of power.

The prototype cooling chip contains two basic components: an emitter and a collector. The emitter has a tip radius of about 1 micron, so small that up to 300 tips could fit across a human hair.

The tip creates air ions, electrically charged particles that are propelled in an electric field to the collector surface.

As the ions travel from tip to collector they create an air jet that blows across the chip, taking heat with it. The volume of the airflow can be controlled by varying the voltage between the emitter and collector.

Professor Mamishev and doctoral students Nels Jewell-Larsen and Chi-Peng Hsu presented a paper on the device at the Thermophysics and Heat Transfer Conference earlier this summer.

The University of Washington researchers, and collaborators including Kronos Advanced Technologies and Intel, have been awarded a US$100,000 grant from the Seattle-based Washington Technology Centre for the second phase of the project.

According to the researchers, the development will become more significant over time as next-generation computer chips become denser and operate at ever higher temperatures.

"Our goal is to develop advanced cooling systems that can be built right onto next-generation microchips," said Jewell-Larsen.

"Such systems could handle the increased heat generation of future chips and the fact that they would be distributed throughout a computer or electronic device."
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