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Surprising Science

Nano-Oils Keeping Electronics Nano-Cool

Nanotechnology is working to keep your electronic devices from overheating, improving efficiency and extending their life. Machines as large as electrical transformers stand to benefit.

What’s the Latest Development?

Researchers at Rice University have successfully added a heat-extracting nano-material to transformer oils used to cool the inner workings of electronic devices. By inserting a tiny amount of hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) particles, enough to equal .1 percent of the cooling oil’s overall weight, the efficiency of the oil was enhanced by 80 percent. The new compound is a cousin of graphene, the much-publicized carbon-based nanomaterial, but unlike graphene, it does not conduct electricity.

What’s the Big Idea?

Cooling excess heat produced in the heart of machines is an essential but little-talked-about objective to the advancement of technology. Progress often depends on more power, but with more power comes more friction and greater energy dissipation. And to stop further energy loss, coolants themselves must be keep separate from a machine’s working parts. In the advancement of computer chips, for example, it may be excess heat which stands in the way of increased processing speed, rather than some conceptual technological barrier.

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