Purdue University doctoral student Tannaz Harirchia and her professor Suresh Garimella (right) have developed a hot new kind of cooling using boiling liquid inside on-chip channels. The researcher holds up her chip design that features the powerful new cooling scheme. She and her advisor have developed formulas to describe the rules that govern boiling in microchannels.  (Source: Purdue University)
Move over air, PC's may have a new best friend

PC cooling is a field of much interest in the enthusiast community.  Traditional solutions have kept it simple, sticking to such tried and true design ideas as making bigger and bigger cooler towers with more heatpipes and fans to making bulky water blocks and circulating liquid to fans in the rear of a case.  Still, enthusiasts have tried to come up with better exotic solutions, trying everything from mineral oil submersion (expensive), piezoelectric coolers, Stirling engines, and Peltier/TEC cooling (expensive).

Car cooling can be equally, if not more demanding.  Cooling a car on the road typically involves removing enough heat to heat two houses in the winter.  Cars typically utilize a mix of fans and water cooling to keep their engines running at a manageable temperature.

Both of these applications may get a boost, thanks to a relatively new cooling technology being researched at Purdue University.  The new tech is essentially phase change cooling (used in freezers and in exotic phase change cooling systems), but the liquid is pumped through microchannels, tiny channels cut into chips.  The minute size of these channels makes them behave very differently than macroscale phase change cooling systems and makes them even more efficient.

The university is making liquid cooled chips with the help of Delphi Electronics.  Suresh Garimella, the R. Eugene and Susie E. Goodson Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University, and doctoral student Tannaz Harirchia are the researchers leading the drive to derive new mathematical formulas to fully understand how boiling occurs in these microchannels and how to improve it to transfer away more heat energy.

The researchers write, "[A]llowing a liquid to boil in cooling systems dramatically increases how much heat can be removed, compared to simply heating a liquid to below its boiling point." 

Describes Professor Garimella, "Boiling occurs differently in tiny channels than it does in ordinary size tubing used in conventional cooling systems."

Purdue's microchannel heatsink measures one square inch in area.  It uses a small compressor to get rid of the heat and return it to the liquid phase.

The Purdue researchers are continuing their research, which is funded by Indiana's 21st Century Research and Technology Fund, and Purdue-based National Science Foundation Cooling Technologies Research Center.  Meanwhile, the commercial chipmaking industry's biggest players are very interested in this new kind of cooling.  IBM is currently working on a multilayer chip which has liquid directly inside it, likely in microchannels.

The breakthrough may help to usher in a new era of greater computing power and improved automotive performance by allowing chips to run at much higher frequencies, and cars engines to operate at greater efficiencies.  In this field that has long relied on two things -- water pumps and fans -- a boiling water microchannel solution using mini-compressors is innovation at its finest.

"Well, there may be a reason why they call them 'Mac' trucks! Windows machines will not be trucks." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
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