Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute tell us of a discovery that might lead to new systems for cooling and displacing heat from computer chips, a critical issue in the semiconductor industry.

The RPI researchers say they have linked heat transfer and bond strength of materials. Their study is based on the idea that the speed at which heat moves between two materials that are in contact with one another is a potent indicator of the strength of the bond between them. The study, in this case, of one solid and one liquid, also shows that the heat flow from one material to another can be altered by painting a thin atomic layer between the two materials. The changed interface changed the interaction between the materials.

The co-leaders of this study are RPI professors Pawel Keblinski and Shekhar Garde. Their study was published in Physical Review Letters.

Kablinski and Garde used molecular dynamics simulations to measure the heat flow between solid surfaces and water. They simulated surface chemistries and discovered that thermal conductivity was proportional to how strongly the liquid adhered to the solid. Garde says, “We can use this new technique to characterize systems that are very difficult or impossible to characterize by other means.”

The results have implications for heat-transfer applications and processes, including boiling and condensation as well as the behavior of water at various sold interfaces. The study helps researchers better understand how water sticks to or flows past a surface.