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Flexible device could provide efficient cooling of electronic devices

Engineers and scientists from UCLA Henry and non profit R&D organisation SRI International have created a thin flexible device whiuch they believe could keep smartphones and laptop computers from overheating. The team also envisages applications in wearable electronics, robotic systems and new types of personalised cooling systems.

The solid state cooling device approach is based on the electrocaloric effect. It uses a thin polymer film that transfers heat from the source to a heat sink and alternates contact between the two by switching a voltage on and off. Because the polymer film is flexible, the system could be adapted for devices with complex curvature or with moving surfaces.

“We were motivated by the idea of devising a personalised cooling system,” said Professor Qibing Pei. “For example, an active cooling pad could keep a person comfortable in a hot office and thus lower the electricity consumption for building air conditioning. Or it could be placed in a shoe insole or in a hat to keep a runner comfortable in the hot Southern California sun. It’s like a personal air conditioner.”

However, the major application is potentially in mobile and wearable electronics, where thermal management remains a major challenge. The UCLA–SRI system is said to have advantages over thermoelectric coolers.

Prof Pei said other potential applications could include a flexible pad for treating injuries or reducing noise in thermographic cameras and night vision devices.

Graham Pitcher

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