Indian origin researcher unveils Victorian piston to cool space-age electronics

April 16th, 2008 - 3:57 pm ICT by admin  

London, April 16 (ANI): A researcher of Indian origin and his colleagues at the University of Twente in Enschede, The Netherlands, have developed a new prototype that may form the basis for future cooling devices that will be much speedier than the present-day devices in cooling micro-electronics.

Srinivas Vanapalli says that the new coolers will be ready to quickly chill sensors in infrared cameras and security scanners down to just 80 kelvin, once it is provided with the cooling power needed to tame the biggest heat emitters like computer chips.

He has revealed that the new cooler is a miniaturised version of a Victorian design called a Stirling cooler, which exploits the fact that when expanding gas cools down it dissipates heat.

He says that a tiny membrane inside the device acts like a piston to compress and expand helium gas. According to him, pumping at up to 1000 times a second (1 kHz), the device can compress and expand 23 cubic millimetres of the gas.

Conventional Stirling coolers, which operate at only 60 Hz and take a relatively long time to cool things down, have limited use on spacecraft and drilling equipment.

Given the high rate at which the new device pumps the gas, Vanapalli envisions its application various new areas in future.

“The goal is to make the cooling system 2 to 3 cm cubed, about the size of sugar cube”, New Scientist quoted Vanapalli as saying.

Describing the working of the new system, he revealed that a pulsing voltage drives the piezoelectric membrane, which forces the helium in the cylinder to compress and expand, driving a high-pressure wave of gas to oscillate back and forth inside the piston.

The researcher says that the wave of gas lifts heat away from the electronics being cooled at one end of the cylinder, and carries it to a copper heat sink at the other end that radiates heat out of the device.

The device also involves a system of reservoirs and pumps that ensure that heat is carried in only one direction.

“There isnt anything like this commercially available today. Most coolers take 45 minutes to an hour; this is near-instant 80 K cooling,” says Michael Lewis of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, US, who worked with Vanapalli on a similar device operating at 120 Hz in 2007.

The whole performance requires less than three watts of power.

The researchers have, however, made it clear that it is too early to expect the compact coolers to show up inside personal computers or the server racks of data centres.

“If there is a sensor in space that needs very rapid cooling without a lot of machinery this could do that,” says Satish Kandlikar of the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, an alumnus of IIT-Bombay.

However, the new devices cannot provide enough cooling power for high-powered computing chips that produce a lot of heat, he adds.

The study has been reported in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments. (ANI)

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