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Magnetic cooling for electronic components that avoids field problems

20 February 2013

A team of researchers has developed a method for magnetically cooling computer chips based on the straining of materials, a process that avoids the negative effects of the magnetic fields.

Luis Hueso

One of the main alternatives to refrigerative cooling is magnetic cooling, using a magnetic material instead of a gas, and magnetizing and demagnetizing cycles instead of compression-expansion cycles. Magnetic cooling is a technique based on the magnetocaloric effect - certain materials modify their temperature when a magnetic field is applied to them.

However, applying a magnetic field leads to problems in miniaturised devices (electronic chips, computer memories, etc), since the magnetic field can interact negatively with these. As a result, the quest for new ways of controlling the magnetisation is crucial.

Researchers Luis Hueso, Andreas Berger and Odrej Hovorka of nanoGUNE in San Sebastian, The Basque Country, have discovered that by using the straining of materials, they can get around the problems of applying a magnetic field. “By straining the material and then relaxing it an effect similar to that of a magnetic field is created, thus inducing the magnetocaloric effect responsible for cooling,” explains Luis Hueso, leader of the nanodevices group at nanoGUNE and a researcher in this study.

“This new technology enables us to have a more local and more controlled cooling method, without interfering with the other units in the device, and in line with the trend in the miniaturisation of technological devices,” adds Hueso.

20-nanometre films consisting of lanthanum, calcium, manganese and oxygen have been developed. According to Hueso, “the aim of this field of research is to find materials that are efficient, economical and environmentally friendly.”

“The idea came about at Cambridge University and among various groups in the United Kingdom, France, Ukraine and the Basque Country we have come up with the right material and an effective technique for cooling electronic chips, computer memories and all these types of applications in microelectronics. Technologically, there would not be any obstacle to using them in fridges, freezers, etc. but economically it is not worthwhile because of the size,” stresses Hueso.

Today, most of the money spent on the huge data servers goes on cooling. That is why this new technology could be effective in applications of this kind. Likewise, one of the great limitations that computer processors have today is that they cannot operate as fast as one would like because they can easily overheat. “If we could cool them down properly, they would be more effective and could work faster,” adds Hueso.


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