Machine Design

New way to cool hot chips: refrigerate 'em

Using "microchannel heat sinks," Purdue University engineers may have found a way to modify household refrigeration technology to cool future weapons systems and computer chips.

Research by mechanical engineers at Purdue University holds promise for modifying household refrigeration technology with " microchannel" heat sinks to cool future weapons systems and computer chips.

The heat sinks use copper plates to circulate coolant in numerous grooves 231 m wide (about 3 the width of a human hair) and 713 m deep. Such devices might attach directly to electronic components in military lasers, microwave radar, weapons systems, and computers.

The heat sinks will be part of a "two-phase" cooling system — the same basic technology used in conventional refrigerators — in which a liquid coolant absorbs heat, turns into a vapor, and is then pressurized and condensed back into a liquid, thus restarting the cycle. With funding from the U.S. Office of Naval Research, the team incorporated the microchannel heat sink into an ordinary refrigerator. The device was attached to a heating element simulating a hot electronic component. Tests used R134a, a refrigerant used in household air conditioners and refrigerators. The researchers successfully substituted a 1-in.-square heat sink for a typical refrigerator evaporator.

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