Scientist Have a Crazy Plan for Cooling Future Computers with Jumping Water Droplets

Sometimes water and computers do mix.


Computer chips get hot when used extensively. Hence, they slow down and become less reliable. A better cooling system will enable faster computers, longer-lasting electronics, and more powerful electric vehicles. Taking an idea from the super-hydrophobic wings of cicada insects, scientists have a crazy plan for cooling future computers with water droplets.

Scientists have developed a water droplet system that could efficiently cool future computers while running at top speed. This smart technique has the potential to be more versatile than existing cooling systems.

The super-hydrophobic wings of cicada insects repulse water and release energy. This causes water droplets to jump off the surface and clean the surface.

Chuan-Hua Chen, one of the researchers, said, “The new system takes advantage of the way water droplets naturally produce a small amount of energy when they merge, as the surface area of the drop is reduced, and less energy is required to flatten them out.”

In this system, scientists placed a sponge-like substance that constrains moisture. The moisture evaporates near any hotspots and is forced onto a hydrophobic surface that is placed below the sponge.

In addition, there are water condensers and passive cooling structures placed in the system. As the water builds, droplets merge, and the hydrophobic coating causes it to jump back up to the sponge, where it’s trapped again, and the process repeats.

READ: New cooling system for supercomputer

Chen said, “As an analogy, to avoid flooding, it is useful to spread the rain over a large area. But if the ground is soaked, the water has no vertical pathway to escape, and flooding is inevitable.”

As the system does not rely on gravity, it works well in any direction. It also has a built-in vertical heat escape mechanism since many current cooling systems dissipate heat across a single plane.

Scientists claimed, “Further demonstration still needs to be done to get this into a form that can be used in today’s electronics.”

Chen said, “It has taken us a few years to work the system to a point where it’s at least comparable to a copper heat spreader, the most popular cooling solution. But now, for the first time, I see a pathway to beating the industry standards.”

Journal Reference

  1. Kris F. Wiedenheft, H. Alex Guo, Xiaopeng Qu, Jonathan B. Boreyko, Fangjie Liu, Kungang Zhang, Feras Eid, Arnab Choudhury, Zhihua Li, Chuan-Hua Chen; Hotspot cooling with jumping-drop vapor chambers. Applied Physics Letters. 3 April 2017; 110 (14): 141601. DOI: 10.1063/1.4979477


See stories of the future in your inbox each morning.