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NASA chip can take the heat: 1,700 hours of continuous operation at 500 degrees Celsius

Heat is the enemy when it comes to silicon. One of the primary goals for system designers and overclockers is to find ways to keep chips cool, usually by relying on innovative, or extreme, cooling methods.

The scientists at NASA, however, appear to have approached the issue of heat from another angle – to design a chip that can operate at intensely hot temperatures. NASA claims that its new chip, which it terms as the “silicon carbide differential amplifier integrated circuit,” in tests exceeded 1,700 hours of continuous operation at 500 degrees Celsius. Typical computer chips malfunction after just hours of extreme temperatures.

"It's really a significant step toward mission-enabling harsh environment electronics," said Phil Neudeck, an electronics engineer and team lead for this work by the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

As the special processor can withstand high temperatures, the requirement for elaborate cooling measures may be unnecessary. Freeing the need for cooling could enable more streamlined and reliable designs.

"This new capability can eliminate the additional plumbing, wires, weight and other performance penalties required to liquid-cool traditional sensors and electronics near the hot combustion chamber, or the need to remotely locate them elsewhere where they aren't as effective," added Neudeck.

NASA believes that this breakthrough, that it claims represents a 100-fold tolerance increase in what has previously been achieved, could lead to improved safety and fuel efficiency as well as reduced emissions from jet engines. The chip would also apply to other space exploration applications, for example, robotic exploration on the hostile surface environment of Venus.

For on-Earth uses, the temperature-resilient chip could also be used in long-lasting high temperature environments, such as oil and natural gas well drilling. Further down the line, and cost permitting, the chip would have its uses inside automotive engines.





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