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Water Droplets to Cool Electronic Hotspots


Duke University engineers have come up with a new way to keep hotspots cool. We’ve all had to deal with technology overheating, and the dangers that come with it. Our devices can’t operate at peak condition when struggling to deal with excess heat. This new technology solves this problem in an unconventional way, by taking a page out of Mother Nature’s book.

Cicadas are flying insects known the world over; they’re also the inspiration for this new technology that will keep hotspots cool and functioning at optimal levels. How did a flying bug bring about this invention? The wings of a cicada get clean by drops of water merging, wiping away dirt and debris. At the same time, the reduction in surface area releases a small amount of energy. This tiny bit of energy allows the merged droplet to jump away. Now these jumping droplets can be incorporated into our cooling technology.

A vapor chamber is created, with a super-hydrophobic floor and spongy ceiling. The chamber is placed beneath an active electronic devoice, where the moisture from the ceiling vaporizes beneath the hotspot. The vapor then moves to the floor — and heat from the electronics goes with it. From there, the heat is drawn away through cooling structures built into the floor. The water vapor condenses into droplets, which naturally jump from the floor and back to the ceiling — ending up once again beneath the hotspot. Thus the system continues, keeping the devices cool and running smoothly.

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“Hotspot cooling is very important for high-performance technologies, Computer processors and power electronics don’t perform as well if waste heat cannot be removed. A better cooling system will enable faster computers, longer-lasting electronics and more powerful electric vehicles.”

Chuan-Hua Chen, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke

This is a huge step forward in cooling technologies for hotspots. Next, scientists must find materials that can survive this process for long periods of time, and that are capable of being mass produced. But this nature-inspired cooling system is the most efficient yet discovered, and could very well end up being the way people keep their technologies from overheating.

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