High temperatures are a large problem for microelectronics as heat can cause errors within the devices and potentially failure. That is why there are so many options for cooling our electronics, including air and liquid cooling systems. Thanks to some new research from the Carnegie Institution, we may see a new cooling contender soon, or at least a new technology to augment what we already have.
The electrocaloric effect, which connects electric fields and temperature, has been known about since the 1930s but has not been utilized. This is because the materials researchers have been using do not demonstrate the effect that well, but the Carnegie researchers have figured out why. They discovered that the best materials to use are those with a low transition temperature between a ferroelectric and paraelectric state. When the material, in this case lithium niobate, is exposed to an electric field, it pumps heat by changing temperature, but when the ambient temperature is above the transition temperature, the effect is stronger.
Lithium niobate has not been studied like this before, but the results of the models the researchers developed may change that. It represents a new way to cool computer chips, and as it should be able to operate at the nanoscale, its impact could be very interesting.