With desktop computers, laptops and even game consoles the primary cooling setup involves fans or liquid-cooling systems. While these are effective cooling methods, there are caveats. With fan-based systems, for example, they tend to collect dust which can lower efficiency and cause additional problems. In some cases, the way these systems handle heat can cause the constant expansion and shrinkage of nearby components — resulting in physical damage like many are seeing in the Nintendo Switch.
There must be a better way, right? It turns out we can use synthetic crystals as a more efficient alternative.
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Texas, Dallas, have developed unique crystals that can help eliminate or reduce heat, commonly produced by active electronics.
Synthetic Crystals May Cool Your Devices In the Near Future
David Cahill, co-leader of the research project. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
The project and its results will be discussed in an upcoming publication of Science.
Basically, the teams have come up with a crystal-growing process that produces a synthetic crystal comprised of boron arsenide. The material — as you might guess — has excellent heat management properties, allowing for better heat distribution and lower temperatures all around.
But since the crystal doesn’t grow naturally, it will need to be made in a laboratory using the research team’s method: something they call chemical vapor transport.
What Is Chemical Vapor Transport?
A process called Chemical Vapor Transport produces the crystals needed for improved heat management inside future tech.
Postdoctoral researcher Qiye Zheng explains the process.
“The boron arsenide crystals [are] synthesized using a technique called chemical vapor transport. Elemental boron and arsenic are combined while in the vapor phase and then cool and condense into small crystals. We combined extensive materials characterization and trial-and-error synthesis to find the conditions that produce crystals of high enough quality.”
Believe it or not, crystals weren’t the first focus. Co-author Bing Lv also explains that the synthetic crystals are more cost-friendly than similar methods.
“Although diamond has been incorporated occasionally in demanding heat-dissipation applications, the cost of natural diamonds and structural defects in man-made diamond films make the material impractical for widespread use in electronics.”
Imagine having diamonds tucked away inside your devices? Come to think of it, let’s toss the crystals and stick with diamonds.
From here, researchers will need to improve the growth and production process for the generated crystals, in addition to adjusting their properties. Then, further optimization will be required to meet large-scale production and application needs. Still, it’s a pretty awesome idea and is certainly something our future tech could benefit from.