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Crystal technology offers efficient refrigeration

Researchers at the Carnegie Institution have discovered a new efficient way to pump heat using crystals.

According to esciencenews.com, the crystals can pump or extract heat, even on the nanoscale, so they could be used on computer chips to prevent overheating or even meltdown, which is currently a major limit to higher computer speeds.

The research is published in the Physical Review Letters.

Ronald Cohen, staff scientist at Carnegie’s Geophysical Laboratory and Maimon Rose, originally a high school intern now at the University of Chicago carried out the research. They performed simulations on ferroelectric crystals — materials that have electrical polarization in the absence of an electric field.

The electrical polarization can be reversed by applying an external electrical field. The scientists found that the introduction of an electric field causes a giant temperature change in the material, dubbed the electrocaloric effect, far above a temperature to a so-called paraelectric state.

“The electrocaloric effect pumps heat through changing temperature by way of an applied electric field,” explained Cohen. “The effect has been known since the 1930s, but has not been exploited because people were using materials with high transition temperatures. We found that the effect is larger if the ambient temperature is well above the transition temperature, so low transition temperature materials are preferred.”

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