Scientists in the US have developed a polymer thermal conductor that they claim can dissolve heat instead of insulating it.
Plastics are already good insulators because they can trap heat easily and quickly. That is why most coffee cup sleeves are made from plastic.
However, they are not as effective in laptop and mobile phone accessories, mainly because electronic devices tend to overheat and plastic ends up trapping it.
This could be set to change, though. A team of researchers at MIT has developed a range of lightweight and flexible polymers that can conduct ten times as much heat as normal plastics.
Yanfei Xu, from the department of mechanical engineering at MIT, said this new type of polymer could transform the electronics industry.
"Traditional polymers are both electrically and thermally insulating. The discovery and development of electrically conductive polymers has led to novel electronic applications such as flexible displays and wearable biosensors," she said.
"Our polymer can thermally conduct and remove heat much more efficiently. We believe polymers could be made into next-generation heat conductors for advanced thermal management applications, such as a self-cooling alternative to existing electronics casings."
Most polymer materials trap heat because they rely on long chains of monomers, which are often tangled in a ball. As a result, it is harder for heat to dissipate out of the material, so it ends up trapping the heat.
While researchers have attempted to simplify the structure of polymers, these problems have not been eradicated altogether. But Xu and her team have been working to change that.
Instead, they attempted to create a new type of polymer material that sports high thermal conductivity by merging intramolecular and intermolecular forces together. The end result was a heat-conducting polymer.
"Our reaction was able to create rigid chains of polymers, rather than the twisted, spaghetti-like strands in normal polymers," said Xu.
"Because this sample is used so ubiquitously, as in solar cells, organic field-effect transistors, and organic light-emitting diodes, if this material can be made to be thermally conductive, it can dissipate heat in all organic electronics
Yanfei Xu, who worked on the project with XU, added: "We grew the polymers on silicon/glass substrates, onto which the oxidant and monomers are adsorbed and reacted, leveraging the unique self-templated growth mechanism of CVD technology."
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