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Nanotube forests grown on silicon chips for future computers, electronics

p chips cooler during operation in commercial products.

"In a personal computer, laptop and portable electronics, the better your thermal interface material, the smaller the heat sink and overall chip-cooling systems have to be," Cola said.

Heat sinks are structures that usually contain an array of fins to increase surface contact with the air and improve heat dissipation, and a fan often also is used to blow air over the devices to cool chips.

Conventional thermal interface materials include greases, waxes and a foil made of a metal called indium. All of these materials, however, have drawbacks. The greases don't last many cycles of repeatedly testing chips on the assembly line. The indium foil doesn't make good enough contact for optimum heat transfer, Fisher said.

The Purdue researchers created templates from branching molecules called dendrimers, forming these templates on a silicon surface. Then, metal catalyst particles that are needed to grow the nanotubes were deposited inside cavities between the dendrimer branches. Heat was then applied to the silicon chip, burning away the polymer and leaving behind only the metal catalyst particles.

The engineers then placed the catalyst particle-laden silicon inside a chamber and exposed it to methane gas. Microwave energy was applied to break down the methane, which contains carbon. The catalyst particles prompted the nanotubes to assemble from carbon originating in the methane, and the tubes then grew vertically from the surface of the silicon chip.

"The dendrimer is a vehicle to deliver the cargo of catalyst particles, making it possible for us to seed the carbon nanotube growth right on the substrate," Amama said. "We are able to control the particle size - what ultimately determines the diameters of the tubes - and we also have control over the density, or the thickness of this forest of nanotubes. The density, quality and diameter are key parameters in controll

Contact: Emil Venere
Purdue University

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