Slivers Of Carbon That Could Break A Chip's Fever

Chips sprouting hairs? IT'S not such a fuzzy notion. Two University of Pennsylvania researchers believe ultraslim hairs of carbon might be the best way to cool down overheated silicon chips.

Electrons whizzing through ever-smaller wires on chips are generating a growing problem: heat. Better cooling methods could be vital for tomorrow's shrunken circuits, and carbon nanotubes might be just the ticket, according to Penn scientists A.T. Johnson and John E. Fischer.

In fact, nanotubes could be the best heat-transfer material there is. These teensy tubes of pure carbon--only 1/10,000th the width of a human hair--are "roughly 10 times better at conducting heat than anything else," says Johnson. In the Sept. 8 issue of Science, the two scientists report that heat flows through the nanotubes at an amazing 10,000 meters per second.

Embedding nanotubes in a chip's plastic or ceramic housing could create tiny "heat stacks" to cool the circuitry inside. The tubes might also be used to cool motor parts or the leading edges of airplane wings.

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