NASA Makes Hot Electronics Cooler

In the world of electronics, thermal control is always one of the limiting factors, particularly in space, where there is no air to help cool down electronic components. Jeffrey Didion, a thermal engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, and Dr. Jamal Seyed-Yagoobi, a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, have developed a technology that may overcome current limitations. Called electrohydrodynamic (EHD)-based thermal control, the technology promises to make it easier and more efficient to remove heat from small spaces — a particular challenge for engineers building advanced space instruments and microprocessors that could fail if the heat they generate is not removed.

The prototype pump that incorporates the electrohydrodynamic (EHD)- based thermal control technology. (NASA)
The main objective of the EHD demonstration is to show that a prototype pump can withstand the extreme launch loads as the rocket lifts off and hurtles toward space. Should it survive the vibration, the technology will have achieved a major milestone in its development. It will mean that it is at or near operational status, making it a viable technology for use on spaceflight instruments. This could include everything from sensors flown in space to those used in automobiles and aircraft.

Unlike current technologies used by instrument and component developers, EHD does not rely on mechanical pumps and other moving parts. Instead, it uses electric fields to pump coolant through tiny ducts inside a thermal cold plate. From there, the waste heat is dumped onto a radiator and dispersed far from heat-sensitive circuitry that must operate within certain temperature ranges. Without mechanical parts, the system is lighter and consumes less power (roughly half a Watt). The system can be scaled to different sizes including lab-on-achip devices.

For more information, visit www.nasa.gov/topics/technology/ features/thermal-control-tech.html.

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