August 24, 2006 – Researchers at the U. of Washington have built a prototype of a cooling device that uses an ion pump to create a cooling air jet directly on a chip’s surface. Trial runs of the device, which uses an electrical field to accelerate air to speeds comparable to those from traditional blowers, show “significantly cooling” on just 0.6W of power.
Future computing applications will require more dense circuitry to boost computing power, which generates more heat, necessitating more advanced cooling systems beyond bulky, noisy, and inefficient fans and heat sinks, the scientists noted. New methods such as liquid-circulated cooling are one alternative but are complex and costly to fix.
In the new air-cooled chip, an emitter with a tip radius of about 1-micron creates air ions, which travel to a collector creating an air jet that blows across the chip. Varying the voltage between the emitter and collector controls the airflow volume.
The next steps in development include developing mathematical models to control multiple chips with built-in coolers, managing the complex processes of micro-scale flow, electrohydrodynamic forces, electrical fields, and moving charges, stated Alexander Mamishev, associate professor of electrical engineering and principal investigator on the project. Another challenge is to identify materials with sufficient high-performance and durability characteristics, with an eye toward nanotubes and other nanostructures, added doctoral student Nels Jewell-Larsen.
The UW researchers, who are collaborating with Kronos Advanced Technologies and Intel Corp., have been awarded a $100,000 grant from the Seattle-based Washington Technology Center for the second phase of their project.
[CAPTION: Infrared images show how a new UW micro-pump cools a heated surface. (Top) The air pump is off; (Bottom) The air pump is on. SOURCE: U. of Washington]