[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 August 2007, 07:49 GMT 08:49 UK
Tiny wind engines cool computers
Chips on computer circuit board
The idea is to create a breeze that wafts over computer chips
Minuscule wind engines could help to take computing power to the next level, scientists believe.

US researchers have developed a prototype device that creates a "breeze" made up of charged particles, or ions, to cool computer chips.

The "ionic wind", the scientists say, will help to manage the heat generated by increasingly powerful, yet ever-shrinking devices.

The research is to be published in the Journal of Applied Physics.

As computers grow increasingly powerful, computer chips are becoming more and more densely packed with transistors, the basic building blocks of microprocessors.

Timothy Fisher, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University and an author on the paper, said: "In computers and electronics, power equals heat, so we need to find ways to manage the heat generated in more powerful laptops and handheld computers."

Hot stuff

Conventional cooling technologies using fans are limited because they can suffer from air-flow problems. As the spinning blades waft air over a chip, the molecules nearest to the chip can get stuck and remain stationary, hindering the cooling effect.

But the new experimental wind engine employs a different strategy.

The prototype, which is attached to a mock computer chip, works by shifting charged particles from one end of the device to the other. As a voltage is applied to the ionic engine, positively charged particles (ions) are produced, and are dragged towards a negatively charged wire (a cathode), forcing constant air movement.

Scientists hold a silicon wafer containing experimental ionic wind engines
The team found the prototype engine boosted cooling

The researchers said that when it was used in conjunction with a conventional fan, air molecules, rather than getting stuck, were dragged across the chip's surface boosting cooling.

The team said the device had increased the cooling rate compared with a that of a conventional fan.

Professor Suresh Garimella, from Purdue University who is a co-author of the paper, said: "Other experimental cooling-enhancement approaches might give you a 40% or a 50% improvement (1.4 to 1.5 times the cooling rate of a conventional fan).

"A 250% improvement (3.5 times the cooling rate of a conventional fan) is quite unusual."

The researchers now need to miniaturise their prototype, making it 100 times smaller than its current size, which is a few millimetres.

Professor Garimella said that this would be crucial for applying the technology to the latest computers and consumer electronics.

If miniaturisation is successful, the team expects the device to be introduced into products within the next three years.

The research is a collaboration between Purdue University, in Indiana, and chip-makers Intel.

Antique engines inspire nano chip
21 Aug 07 |  Technology
Chips push through nano-barrier
27 Jan 07 |  Technology
Chilly chip shatters speed record
20 Jun 06 |  Technology
Nano circuit offers big promise
24 Mar 06 |  Science/Nature
Door open for silicon replacement
25 Aug 04 |  Science/Nature

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific