UCLA’s Breakthrough in Solid-State Thermal Transistor Technology

by Amir Hussein
Solid-State Thermal Transistor

Researchers at UCLA have introduced a groundbreaking solid-state thermal transistor, a significant innovation in the field of heat management for semiconductors. This device efficiently manages the movement of heat in semiconductor materials using an electric field. An illustration of this UCLA-developed device demonstrates its capability in manipulating heat flow. This development was achieved by H-Lab at UCLA.

This innovative electronic instrument precisely manages the activation and deactivation of heat transfer.

A group of UCLA scientists has revealed a pioneering, stable, solid-state thermal transistor. This device uniquely employs an electric field to direct the movement of heat in a semiconductor. The research, published in the journal Science, explains the functioning of this device and its possible uses. It stands out for its rapid operation and high efficiency, potentially revolutionizing heat control in computer chips via atomic and molecular engineering. Additionally, it could enhance our understanding of heat regulation in the human body.

Advancement in Heat Management

Yongjie Hu, a UCLA professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering, noted, “Managing heat flow through materials with precision has been a challenging goal for physicists and engineers.” This innovation represents a significant step towards this goal, controlling heat flow with the on-off toggling of an electric field, akin to the function of electrical transistors for many years.

Electrical transistors, essential to modern information technology, were initially developed in the 1940s by Bell Labs. They consist of three components: a gate, a source, and a sink. The application of an electrical field through the gate modulates the flow of electricity, allowing these semiconductor devices to amplify or switch electrical signals. However, the miniaturization of transistors has led to billions fitting on a single chip, increasing heat production and affecting chip performance. Traditional heat sinks draw heat away passively, but dynamic, active heat regulation has remained a challenge.

Surpassing Former Barriers

Previous attempts to adjust thermal conductivity faced challenges due to their dependence on moving parts, ionic movements, or liquid components, resulting in slow heat movement switch speeds and reliability issues, incompatible with semiconductor manufacturing.

The newly developed thermal transistor, with a field effect and solid-state design (no moving parts), offers high performance and compatibility with semiconductor manufacturing processes. Its design involves manipulating charge dynamics at the atomic interface, allowing effective heat flux control with minimal power.

Exceptional Performance and Applications

The UCLA researchers demonstrated thermal transistors with electric gating, achieving a record-breaking switching speed of over 1 megahertz (1 million cycles per second). These transistors showed a 1,300% adjustability in thermal conductance and sustained reliable performance over 1 million switching cycles.

Paul Weiss, a co-author and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, highlighted the collaboration’s success, noting significant improvements in the speed and scale of thermal switching compared to previous capabilities.

Their proof-of-concept includes a self-assembled molecular interface acting as a heat movement channel. The thermal resistance across atomic interfaces is controlled by toggling an electrical field on and off through a gate terminal, thus facilitating precise heat movement through the material.

The study confirms the transistor’s effectiveness through spectroscopy experiments and computational analyses, accounting for field effects on atomic and molecular characteristics.

This research represents a scalable technological advancement for sustainable energy in chip manufacturing and performance. Hu also indicates the potential of this technology in understanding heat management within the human body, especially at a molecular level.

The research, titled “Electrically gated molecular thermal switch,” involves various UCLA-affiliated authors and has received support from several foundations and institutions. The study’s publication date is November 2, 2023, in the journal Science, with the DOI reference 10.1126/science.abo4297.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Solid-State Thermal Transistor

What is the recent breakthrough in heat management technology by UCLA?

UCLA researchers have developed a novel solid-state thermal transistor that controls semiconductor heat movement using an electric field. This represents a significant advancement in managing heat in computer chips and could have applications in understanding human body heat regulation.

How does the solid-state thermal transistor developed by UCLA work?

The transistor uses an electric field to control the movement of heat in semiconductor devices. It functions by manipulating charge dynamics at the atomic interface, allowing precise and efficient control of heat transfer.

What are the potential applications of UCLA’s solid-state thermal transistor?

The primary application is in the field of computer chip heat management, where it can significantly improve the performance and efficiency of chips. Additionally, it has the potential to enhance understanding and control of heat regulation in the human body.

What makes UCLA’s thermal transistor different from previous heat management technologies?

UCLA’s thermal transistor is unique in its fully solid-state design, which means it has no moving parts. This allows for faster switching speeds and higher reliability compared to previous technologies that relied on moving parts or liquid components.

Who were the key contributors to this research at UCLA?

The research was led by Professor Yongjie Hu from the mechanical and aerospace engineering department and Professor Paul Weiss from the chemistry and biochemistry department, along with a team of researchers from UCLA.

What are the performance capabilities of the thermal transistor developed by UCLA?

The transistor achieved a record-breaking switching speed of over 1 megahertz (1 million cycles per second) and a 1,300% tunability in thermal conductance, with reliable performance for more than 1 million switching cycles.

Has the UCLA thermal transistor been published in a scientific journal?

Yes, the research detailing the solid-state thermal transistor was published in the journal Science on November 2, 2023, under the title “Electrically gated molecular thermal switch.”

More about Solid-State Thermal Transistor

  • UCLA Samueli School of Engineering
  • Science Journal Publication
  • UCLA Newsroom Announcement
  • Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UCLA
  • Chemistry and Biochemistry Department at UCLA
  • National Institutes of Health Research Grants
  • Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
  • National Science Foundation
  • UCLA Nanolab Resources
  • California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA
  • UCLA Institute for Digital Research and Education

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Alex B December 26, 2023 - 8:31 am

gotta appreciate the brains at UCLA, this thermal transistor thing is game-changing, wonder how soon it’ll be used in actual products?

Emma T December 26, 2023 - 12:51 pm

read about this in science journal, the article was quite detailed. It’s fascinating how this transistor works, a big leap in semiconductor tech for sure

Sarah K December 26, 2023 - 3:42 pm

wow this is huge, controlling heat in semiconductors has always been a challenge, hats off to UCLA team

Dave R December 26, 2023 - 9:45 pm

i’m not much into tech but this seems like a big deal, especially with how it could help in understanding the human body heat? pretty cool

Mike Johnson December 27, 2023 - 1:56 am

really interesting stuff here, UCLA always coming up with amazing tech, this thermal transistor could really change things in chip design


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