Assistant Professor Yan Wang of the Department of Mechanical Engineering has received a CAREER award to advance research to more fully understand phonon wave behaviors, contribute to strategies to better control heat transfer at the nano- and micro-scales and ultimately expand heat transfer limits.
The ability to push heat transfer has wide-ranging implications. Wang shared the example of maximizing heat dissipation in modern devices such as computers or cell phones which will enable better cooling of these devices, thus extending their lifetime and improve their performance.
The CAREER awards are presented through the early-career development program of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Wang’s project, supported by a $512,108 grant, will expand and diversify the research in his Nano-Thermal-Mechanical Engineering lab, which currently has three ongoing NSF projects tackling different aspects of laser manufacturing, a project supported by the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund on thermal transport in clathrate hydrates, and a project supported by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on thermoelectric-powered thermal sensors.
Wang recently shared more about his research and its societal benefits, including how it is advancing current heat-transfer technologies and how its K-12 education and outreach activities may inspire younger generations to seek advanced degrees and get involved in the areas of thermal science and engineering.
What is the goal of your CAREER project?
Semiconductors are the “brains” of modern electronics, but the heat generated during operation of devices can degrade their performance or even damage them. Heat conduction in semiconductor crystals is dominated by collective atomic vibrations known as phonons, so we must fully understand the behavior of phonons to develop effective thermal engineering strategies. The research goal of this project is to understand the wave nature of phonons through quantum-mechanical methods and atomistic modeling. Furthermore, novel strategies leveraging wave interference and transmission will be developed to achieve better control of heat transfer at the nano- and micro-scales. The education goal of this project is to develop K-12 educational programs, new undergraduate/graduate-level course modules (my ME314 and ME414/614 heat transfer classes), and online tutorials and interactive simulation tools, all under the overarching theme of understanding wave behaviors in nature.
What impact will the project have on science and engineering?
This research will lead to novel engineering strategies to push heat transfer to the extremes. In the first scenario, we can maximize heat dissipation in modern devices like quantum cascade lasers and integrated circuits. This will enable better cooling of those devices, thus extending their lifetime and improve their performance (consider how slow our computers or cell phones can become when they get hot). In the other scenario, we can minimize heat conduction in thermoelectric materials (which can convert waste heat into electricity or be used for solid-state cooling) and thermal barriers (which protects critical components from overheating), of which the performance can benefit from improved thermal insulation.
What impact will the project have on society?
Heat transfer is a limiting factor in nanoscale engineering: if the finely tuned elements such as microchips or lasers get too hot or conduct heat uncontrollably, the devices will not function as intended. Thus, this research will directly benefit the semiconductor industry that always seeks improved cooling of critical components (e.g., CPUs, GPUs, RAMs, hard drives, etc.). Moreover, the K-12 education and outreach activities can motivate the younger generation to pursue advanced degrees and career in the STEM area, particularly in thermal science and engineering areas.
Anything else you'd like us to know?
- This project will extensively use the University's Pronghorn supercomputer (a high performance computing cluster co-located at Switch and part of the University’s Information Technology Cyberinfrastructure), which has nearly 4,000 CPU cores and more than 40 high-end NVIDIA GPUs.
- Our Nano-Thermal-Mechanical Engineering lab is actively recruiting undergraduate and graduate students who are passionate about thermal science, materials physics and electronic devices. Details can be found on the lab’s website.