The team showed that a heat shield built from few layers of atomically thin materials, stacked like sheets of paper atop hot spots, can provide the same insulation as a sheet of glass 100 times thicker.
In the near term, a thinner heat shield will enable engineers to make electronic devices even more compact than those we have today, said Eric Pop, professor of electrical engineering. “We’re looking at the heat in electronic devices in an entirely new way,” Pop said.
Thinking about heat as a form of sound inspired the Stanford researchers to borrow some principles from the physical world, particularly double-galzed windows that have an air gap for insulation. “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 Stanford team used a layer of graphene and three other sheet-like materials – each three atoms thick – to create a four-layered insulating heat shield just 10 atoms deep. Despite its thinness, the insulator is effective because the atomic heat vibrations are dampened and lose much of their energy as they pass through each layer.
To make nanoscale heat shields practical, the researchers will have to find some mass production technique to spray or otherwise deposit atom-thin layers of materials onto electronic components during manufacturing. “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,” said Pop.
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