UB Materials Engineer Invents New Thermal Paste to Help Minimize Overheating in Electronic Devices

Release Date: July 14, 2003

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A materials engineer at the University at Buffalo has invented a new thermal paste that will help solve the problem of overheating in high-performance personal computers and other electronics.

Created by Deborah D.L. Chung, Niagara Mohawk Professor of Materials Research in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the paste, when applied between a heat sink and a heat source, can improve greatly the conduction of heat from the heat source to the heat sink. Heat sinks are used widely in electronics to draw away heat produced by the device and prevent the device from overheating.

"Heat dissipation is the most critical problem in the electronics industry because it limits the performance, speed and further miniaturization of microelectronics," Chung explains.

In comparative laser-flash testing, Chung's thermal paste -- composed of carbon-filled organic material -- performed better than the leading thermal pastes currently on the market. The results of the testing and the makeup Chung's paste will be described in a forthcoming issue of the journal Carbon.

"The invented material is superior to all other thermal pastes, including those involving exotic materials such as carbon nanotubes and diamond. It even significantly surpasses solder -- the best material currently available -- for improving the thermal contact between two surfaces," she says.

The development of heat sink materials has received much attention for the alleviation of the overheating problem, Chung notes. Development of thermal pastes for improving the thermal contact between the heat source and the heat sink has received relatively little attention, however.

Without a good thermal paste, the use of an expensive heat sink material is not worthwhile, Chung says. "Even if the heat sink itself is very high in thermal conductivity, heat conduction from the heat source to the heat sink remains poor unless the thermal contact between heat sink and heat source is good," she says. Additional benefits of Chung's thermal paste are that it is inexpensive to produce and it also can be used on heat pipes -- for drawing out geothermal energy -- and within thermal fluid heaters for reclaiming heat indirectly produced by the heaters.

Chung is in the process of filing a patent for the thermal paste through the UB Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach (STOR). UB mechanical and aerospace engineering graduate student Chia-Ken Leong assisted in development of the paste.

Chung is director of UB's Composite Materials Research Laboratory, which conducts research on composite materials for aerospace, automotive, construction and electronic applications.

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