New Atoms-Thick Heat Shield Can Protect Electronic Devices

The innovation could lead to significantly more compact electronics.

All our electronics have measures in place to guard against excess heat. This is because excess heat can lead to malfunctions and even cause lithium battery explosions.

However, those heat-protecting measures take up quite some space making our electronics larger. Now, Stanford researchers have devised of a new heat protector that consists of just a few layers of atomically thin materials.

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Same insulation as a sheet of glass 100 times thicker

The novel invention can provide the same insulation as a sheet of glass 100 times thicker. “We’re looking at the heat in electronic devices in an entirely new way,” said Eric Pop, professor of electrical engineering and senior author of the study.

The new innovation relies on the fact that heat is actually a form of high-frequency sound. Once the team approached the problem from that angle they were able to devise a solution stemming from a trick employed by homeowners.

To soundproof homes, people often install multi-paned windows. “We adapted that idea by creating an insulator that used several layers of atomically thin materials instead of a thick mass of glass,” said postdoctoral scholar Sam Vaziri, the lead author on the paper.

The researchers used a layer of one such atomically thin material called graphene. They then added three other similar materials, each only three atoms thick, to create a four-layered insulator that was just 10 atoms thick.

Mass production

The end result is an incredibly thin insulator that is effective because the atomic heat vibrations are dampened and lose much of their energy as they pass through each layer.

Now, the researchers are seeking some form of mass production technique to deposit atom-thin layers of materials onto electronic components during manufacturing. However, what they really hope to achieve someday is the control of the vibrational energy inside materials. 

“As engineers, we know quite a lot about how to control electricity, and we’re getting better with light, but we’re just starting to understand how to manipulate the high-frequency sound that manifests itself as heat at the atomic scale,” Pop concluded.

The study is published in Science Advances.

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