Engineers from Northeastern University have developed a new type of ceramic that can take fine and complex shapeswhich opens up new and wide applications in the field of electronics.
described as thermoformable ceramicthe new materials were born out of a lab accident, but could serve as more efficient and durable heat sinks, among other possibilities.
Last year, the study authors were experimenting with experimental boron-based ceramic compounds for possible industrial applications, and had apparently pushed the material to the breaking point.
We put it through a blowtorch and while loading it unexpectedly deformed and fell off the fixture. We looked at the sample on the ground thinking it was an insect. We found that it was perfectly intact. He just had a different shape. We tried it several times and found that we could control the warping. And then we started compression molding the material and found that it was a very quick process.
Randall Erb, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Northeastern.
The behavior of the material ran counter to conventional wisdom about how ceramics are formed and what they are able to withstand. When subjected to extreme temperature changes, these materials are prone to cracking or breaking, but the team was able to literally apply a blowtorch and keep them in one piece.
This is something unique: thermoformable ceramic, from what we have seen and read, does not really exist. It is therefore a new frontier in materials.
Jason Bice, author of the study.
Closer examination of the materials revealed an underlying microstructure that allows them to transmit heat quickly. During molding and thermoforming, a process often applied to thermoplastic polymers and sheet metal, the team found that ceramics could be molded into complex geometries while maintaining good mechanical strength and thermal conductivity.
Also in its favour, when it comes to applications in electronics, the fact that the material does not transport electrons and does not interfere with radio frequencies (RF). In smartphones and other devices, a thick layer of aluminum is used to dissipate heat. But with its set of properties and its ability to be less than a millimeter thick and to adapt to different surfaces, the team sees that the ceramic material serves as a more efficient heat sink.
If an aluminum heat sink is placed over a radio frequency component, a series of antennas have been introduced which interact with the radio frequency signal. Instead, we can place our boron nitride material in and around an RF component and it’s essentially invisible to the RF signal.
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