As microprocessors rev up to ever-faster speeds, they generate more heat--making it hard for personal computers to stay cool. So Digital Equipment Corp. dreamed up a little pipe organ that sits on a chip and sucks up heat. Its tiny pipes contain alcohol. At the bottom, heat causes the liquid to boil. The vapors rise to the top where, cooled by the PC's fan, the alcohol reverts to a liquid and flows back down.
Could such an intricate device be produced economically? DEC put it to Randall M. German, a professor of materials science at Pennsylvania State University. He succeeded in molding prototypes from tungsten-copper alloy. That got the attention of Aavid Engineering Inc. The Laconia (N.H.) company is making its own little fridge for computers and concedes that DEC's design is clever, but pricier than the plastic-and-copper system Aavid introduced last fall. "It's a validation of our approach," says Ralph Larson, head of Aavid's research lab.