Scientists Develop First Chip-Scale Thermoelectric Cooler

February 2, 2009 by Lisa Zyga, weblog

( -- As computer chips become more powerful, they also become hotter. Nearly all the power that flows into a chip comes out of it as waste heat, and that heat hurts the performance of the chip.

Methods for cooling transistors have always been an important part of the semiconductor industry, but recently researchers have been coming up with more clever strategies for keeping computer chips cool. One such strategy is the use of a chip-scale thermoelectric cooler, which has been demonstrated for the first time by a collaboration of researchers from Intel, Arizona State University in Tempe, RTI International, and Nextreme Thermal Solutions.

In a recent study published in Nature Nanotechnology, the researchers presented the thermoelectric "chiller" embedded in a chip package that pumps heat out of the chip when current flows through it. The chiller could lower the temperature of a small hot spot on a large chip by nearly 15°C - exceeding the significant 10°C goal that was described in an analysis by researchers at the University of Maryland five years ago.

One key to the device's performance was that the researchers focused on cooling only the hottest spots on a chip, which has previously been shown to be a more energy-efficient strategy than trying to cool the entire chip. Another key is that the researchers fabricated the device out of nanoscale layers of material, which has previously been shown to increase efficiency.

The thermoelectric cooler consists of a superlattice structure made of bismuth, tellurium, antimony, and selenium. The structure pumps heat from the back side of the chip to a conventional heat spreader on the front side, which uses convection to transfer the heat and cool the chip.

In experiments, the researchers created a hot spot on the chip (with a heat flux of about 1300 W/cm2, which is much higher than usually found on a microprocessor). Even before powering the thermoelectric superlattice structure, the chiller could decrease the temperature of the hot spot by about 6°C. After powering the thermoelectric cooler, the temperature of the hot spot cooled by nearly 15°C.

The researchers explained that the thermoelectric technique could provide cooling solutions for computers in future data centers, in which cooling hot spots on processors will be critical for good performance. Transistors run faster when they're cooler, and also last longer because extreme temperature changes cause mechanical stress on computer chips that can destroy them. Thermoelectric strategies might also help cool the chips in portable devices, such as multitasking smart phones, which run data-intensive processing.

As co-author Ravi Prasher of Intel explained, packaging a nanoscale device within a macroscale system is a significant achievement. However, the team still needs to do more work before commercializing the device.

More information: Chowdhury, Ihtesham, et al. "On-chip cooling by superlattice-based thin-film thermoelectrics." Nature Nanotechnology. Published online: 25 January 2009 | doi:10.1038/nnano.2008.417.

via: IEEE Spectrum

© 2009

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1.3 / 5 (12) Feb 02, 2009
Little did you know that you have developed THE CURE FOR CANCER!!! Just figure a way to get the radiator some distance from the cell and place the cell next to the cancer. Cooling the cancer cell will slow its rate of mitosis and restore it to health!!!!
4 / 5 (5) Feb 02, 2009
yea i think that wouldnt work for cancer, being as cancer is caused by a GENETIC deformity in our DNA. Even if it worked, it would have to be done non-stop.
I wish it would, as my 3 yr old has cancer....
2.5 / 5 (2) Feb 03, 2009
I hope I understand your comment right, otherwise the following explanation is going to sound awfully condescending: Cancers are caused by damage to our DNA, which causes the cells to divide and grow without restraint. But it isn't like we're born with cancer-causing DNA in every cell of our bodies. There are hereditary factors that make us more susceptible to the genetic damage but the cancer itself starts with only a few cells where the DNA has been altered by outside events (such as radiation, UV, some chemicals or infectious organisms, or copying errors during cell division). From there the cancer grows and spreads. But it doesn't start out spread through our whole bodies; and that's why trying to kill or remove the affected areas sometimes works, especially if you get it early. Anyway, I hope all goes well with your child.
not rated yet Feb 03, 2009
I probably don't know enough to know better, but the idea sounds neat. I dunno, at least in keeping the tumors slowed down to do other stuff.
not rated yet Feb 03, 2009
old idea
not rated yet Feb 04, 2009
i prefer the heat the cancer up and kill them method myself, but how did this turn into a cancer discussion? it's about chips...
not rated yet Feb 09, 2009
el_nexus-thanks, and no not condescending at all :)

abadaba-good point :D someone mentioned cancer, and as with any parent with a child of cancer, that ALWAYS entails a response be made.

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