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Heatsinks that work by sound

All getting a bit Star Trek for our liking

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Boffins at the University of Pennsylvania reckon that the future of cooling lies in converting heat into sound. The technique, which we don't pretend to understand for a moment, centres on some dinky little gizmos called carbon nanotubes.

The nanotubes, filaments of pure carbon less than one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair with walls just one atom thick, turn out to be the best heat-conducting material mankind has ever known. Not only are they exceptionally tough - 100 times as strong as steel - but researchers now claim they may find applications as miniature heat pipes in the next generation of heatsinks.

Writing in the September edition of Science, scientists John Fischer and Alan Johnson say that the heat energy in nanotubes is carried by sound waves moving very rapidly in what is effectively a one-dimensional direction.

Our rather rudimentary grasp of physics suggests to us that a sound wave moving in only one dimension would necessarily have to have zero amplitude, making it absolutely silent, but, hey, what do we know? The only Doctor we have on the staff is Spinola, and his is just an honorary doctorate from the University of Life.

The two real doctors found that sound waves carrying thermal energy travel through carbon nanotubes at roughly 10,000 metres per second - considerably faster than heat moves by conductivity through conventional heatsink materials such as aluminium.

So maybe rather than relying on a simple finger on the heatsink, overclockers will soon be able to tell if their 2GHz Celeron 300A is dangerously close to oblivion by hearing it scream. ®

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