Boiling water makes for cooler electronics

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The ability to control bubble formation in boiling water could come in handy for a couple of reasons

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Boiling water seems a straightforward enough exercise, you flick on the gas and wait for the bubbles to start popping. But by manipulating how many of those bubbles appear as the temperature rises, scientists have discovered a new way to finely control how much heat and steam is released in the process, a technique they say could lead to advanced cooling systems for more efficient electronic devices.

Developed by scientists at Oregon State University (OSU), the new method uses a piezoelectric inkjet printer to print water-repelling polymer dots onto a substrate. On top of this substrate they placed a water-friendly zinc oxide nanostructure, which only grows in spaces where there are no polymer dots.

By altering this hydrophobic-hydrophilic balance of the material, the scientists can precisely control where and when the bubbles form. This in turn allows them to regulate the boiling and condensation processes and how much heat is transferred along the way.

By modifying the hydrophobic-hydrophilic balance of the material, the OSU scientists can precisely control bubble formation(Credit: Oregon State University)

These capabilities could come in handy for a couple of reasons. The technology could be fine-tuned to more readily release heat and maintain low operating temperatures for applications such as solar energy, advanced lasers and other electronics.

"One of the key limitations for electronic devices is the heat they generate, and something that helps dissipate that heat will help them operate at faster speeds and prevent failure," says Chih-hung Chang, a professor of electrical engineering at OSU. "The more bubbles you can generate, the more cooling you can achieve."

The other promising function of this technology is its ability to produce steam at lower temperatures. This could see it find uses in clothing irons and industrial boiler systems as a way of boosting their efficiency.

The researchers say they have demonstrated the technology on large surfaces and are confident they will be able to scale it up for commercial use.

Their work was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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