Researchers adjust the thermal conductivity of materials ‘on the fly’ for more energy-efficient devices

Researchers adjust the thermal conductivity of materials 'on the fly' for more energy-efficient devices

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University of Minnesota Twin Cities PhD in Mechanical Engineering. students Yingying Zhang and Chi Zhang conduct measurements using a home-built system involving ultrafast laser pulses to study strontium and lanthanum cobaltite devices. Credit: Dingbin Huang, University of Minnesota

A team led by scientists and engineers at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities has discovered a new method for regulating the thermal conductivity of materials to control heat flow “on the fly”. Their tuning range is the highest ever recorded among single-step processes in the field and will open the door to the development of more energy-efficient and durable electronic devices.

The researchers’ paper is published in Nature communications.

Just as electrical conductivity determines how well a material can carry electricity, thermal conductivity describes how well a material can carry heat. For example, many metals used to make pans have high thermal conductivity so they can transport heat efficiently to cook food.

Typically, the thermal conductivity of a material is a constant and unchanging value. However, the University of Minnesota team discovered a simple process for “tuning” this value in strontium lanthanum cobaltite, a material often used in fuel cells. Similar to the way a switch controls the flow of electricity to a light bulb, the researchers’ method provides a way to turn the flow of heat in devices on and off.

“Controlling how well a material can transfer heat is of great importance in daily life and in industry,” said Xiaojia Wang, co-corresponding author of the study and an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota. “With this research, we have achieved a record fine-tuning of thermal conductivity, demonstrating the promise of effective thermal management and energy consumption in the electronic devices people use every day. A well-designed and functioning thermal management system would enable better user experience and make devices more durable.”

Wang’s team worked in tandem with Chris Leighton, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Distinguished McKnight University, whose lab specializes in materials synthesis.

Leighton’s team fabricated the lanthanum, strontium and cobaltite devices using a process called electrolytic gating, in which ions (molecules with an electrical charge) are driven onto the surface of the material. This allowed Wang and his research team to manipulate the material by applying a low voltage to it.

“Electrolytic gating is a tremendously powerful technique for controlling the properties of materials and is well established for voltage control of electronic, magnetic and optical behavior,” said Leighton, corresponding author of the study and a faculty member of the University of the Minnesota Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. “This new work applies this approach in the realm of thermal properties, where voltage control of physical behavior is less explored. Our results establish low-power, continuously adjustable thermal conductivity over an impressive range, opening up some interesting potential applications of the device. . ”

“Although it was difficult to measure the thermal conductivity of lanthanum, strontium and cobaltite films because they are so ultrathin, it was quite exciting when we finally got the experiments going,” said Yingying Zhang, first author of the paper and a mechanic of the University of Minnesota. PhD in engineering student. ‘This project not only provides a promising example of fine-tuning the thermal conductivity of materials, but also demonstrates the powerful approaches we use in our laboratory to push the experimental limit for challenging measurements.’

More information:
Yingying Zhang et al, Continuous wide-range tuning of thermal conductivity of La0.5Sr0.5CoO3- films by ion-gel gating at room temperature, Nature communications (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-38312-z

About the magazine:
Nature communications

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NASA message in a bottle campaign: sign the poem that will fly aboard the Europa Clipper

Sign the poem that will fly aboard NASA's Europa Clipper

Sign the poem that will fly aboard NASA's Europa Clipper

The Message in a Bottle campaign offers everyone the opportunity to have their name stamped on a microchip featuring US poet laureate Ada Limns In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa. The chip will travel aboard NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft to Jupiter and its moon Europa. Credit: NASA

Jupiters moon Europa on the Europa Clipper mission in 2024. The campaign, designed to spark global interest in space exploration, also allows participants to create personalized souvenirs and encourages social media engagement.

Members of the public are invited to add their names to an original poem dedicated to NASAs Europa Clipper mission before the spacecraft begins its journey to Jupiters moon Europa in October 2024. The poem and the names will be like a message in a bottle, traveling billions of miles as the mission investigates whether the ocean thought to lie beneath Europas icy crust could support life.

As part of the Message in a Bottle campaign, names received before 11:59 p.m. EST, December 31, 2023, will be stenciled onto a microchip, along with the poem, written by U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limn and titled In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa.

To sign, read the poem, and hear Limn recite the poem in an animated video, go to:

The site also enables participants to create and download a customizable souvenir an illustration of your name on a message in a bottle against a rendering of Europa and Jupiter to commemorate the experience. Participants are encouraged to share their enthusiasm on social media using the hashtag #SendYourName.

Message in a Bottle is the perfect convergence of science, art, and technology, and we are excited to share with the world the opportunity to be a part of Europa Clippers journey, said Nicola Fox, associate administrator for NASAs Science Mission Directorate in Washington. I just love the thought that our names will be traveling across our solar system aboard the radiation-tolerant spacecraft that seeks to unlock the secrets of Jupiters frozen moon.

Europa Mission Spacecraft Artist's Rendering

Artists rendering of NASAs Europa Clipper spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Message in a Bottle campaign is similar to other NASA projects that have enabled tens of millions of people to send their names to ride along with Artemis I and several Mars spacecraft. It draws from the agencys long tradition of shipping inspirational messages on spacecraft that have explored our solar system and beyond. In the vein of NASAs Voyagers Golden Record, which sent a time capsule of sounds and images to communicate the diversity of life and culture on Earth, the program aims to spark the imagination of people around the world.

Inspiration is what fueled the people who developed this flagship mission and who hand-crafted the largest spacecraft NASA has sent to explore the solar system. Its what drives humanity to ask the big questions that this mission will contribute to, said Laurie Leshin, director of NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, which leads the development of Europa Clipper. Inspiration is riding along with every single name that will be making the journey to Europa.

Europa Clipper currently is being assembled, on camera, at JPL. Set to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the spacecraft will travel 1.8 billion miles (2.6 billion kilometers) to reach the Jupiter system, where it will arrive in 2030. As it orbits Jupiter and flies by Europa about 50 times, it will log another half-billion miles (800,000 kilometers) while a suite of science instruments gathers data on the subsurface ocean, the ice crust, and the moons atmosphere.

In January, Limn visited JPL to see the spacecraft and learn more about the mission. She was appointed 24th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden in 2022 and reappointed for a second, two-year term in April 2023. Limn was born in Sonoma, California, and is of Mexican ancestry. She is the author of several poetry collections, including The Hurting Kind and The Carrying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry.

The Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center is the home of the nations official poet, the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry a position that has existed since 1937. The Library of Congress is the worlds largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States and extensive materials from around the world both on site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and home of the U.S. Copyright Office.

More About the Mission

The primary scientific goal of the Europa Clipper mission is to ascertain whether there might be locations beneath Europas surface that are capable of supporting life. The mission has three main objectives: comprehending the nature of the ice shell and the underlying ocean, understanding the moons composition, and studying its geology. These investigations into Europas intricate details will provide scientists with a clearer understanding of the potential for astrobiological life in worlds beyond Earth.

The management of the Europa Clipper mission is led by Caltech, based in Pasadena, California. Its partner for this project is the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) located in Laurel, Maryland, working on behalf of NASAs Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The main body of the spacecraft was designed jointly by APL, JPL, and NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center, based in Greenbelt, Maryland. The execution of program management for the Europa Clipper mission is carried out by the Planetary Missions Program Office, part of NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center, located in Huntsville, Alabama.

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