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US boffins: Laptops will be as hot as the Sun by 2030

Nanodemon tech to prevent notebook novae

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US boffins say that the tendency of laptops to run hotter as performance increases is out of control - and notebooks will be as hot as the surface of the sun by 2030.

The American brainboxes reckon to solve the problem by using nanotech demons to violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

"Laptops are very hot now, so hot that they are not 'lap' tops anymore," said Avik Ghosh, associate prof at the University of Virginia.

"If we continue at our current pace ... these devices will be as hot as the sun in 10 to 20 years."

Ghosh and his fellow Virginia U boffin Mircea Stan say this just won't do. Unfortunately, the tendency of a laptop to slowly grill the knees of users would seem to be an inevitable consequence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which basically says that heat moves from a hot body to a colder one and there's nothing you can do about it.

But Ghosh and Stan reckon there could be a loophole.

"Chlorophyll, for example, can convert photons into energy in highly efficient ways that seem to violate traditional thermodynamic expectations," says Ghosh. He also reckons that "Brownian ratchets" might be used to turn energy into mechanical effort, so reducing heat.

Essentially, in order to pull off such tricks, Ghosh and Stan will need to unscrew an inscrutable physics conundrum posed in 1871 by renowned Scottish brain James Clerk Maxwell, who reckoned you could possibly avoid the Second Law by reducing entropy levels - the amount of natural disorder in the system. This is "Maxwell's Demon", which the two Virginia brainboxes aim to tackle by moving the effort out of theoretical physics and into engineering - particularly nanoengineering, which they think could harness the Demon for the good of humanity.

The new supercool demon nanotech laptops would also - in addition to the crowd-pleasing feature of not vapourising their owners' legs in a ball of molten boiling plasma - have extra good battery life, as they would by necessity waste far less energy than current models. There might also be performance gains.

Indeed, if the Virginian researchers can reach their goal, laptops will be almost the least of the technologies and devices which would benefit - everything from cars to power stations would potentially work much better and more efficiently. It may be a long shot, but that's what basic research is supposed to be about. But not too basic, according to Stan - he wants to get this off the blackboard and into the lab at the very least.

"These theories have been looked at from a physics perspective for years, but not from the perspective of electrical engineering," he says. "So that's where we are trying to break some ground." ®

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