A new way of stopping machines overheating is being developed
NANO-THIS. Nano-that. Nano-the-other. The idea that making things so small you measure their dimensions in nanometres (as billionths of a metre are dubbed by the scientific-measurement system) will unlock advantages denied to larger objects has been around for well over a decade. Long enough, in other words, for sceptics to wonder when something useful will actually come of it. It looks possible, though, that something useful is indeed about to happen. The evidence suggests that adding a sprinkle of nanoparticles to water can improve its thermal conductivity, and thus its ability to remove heat from something that it is in contact with, by as much as 60%. In a world where the cost of coolth is a significant economic drain (industrial cooling consumes 7% of the electricity generated within the European Union) that offers a worthwhile gain. It would, for instance, allow the huge computer-filled warehouses that drive the Internet to fit in more servers per square metre of floor space.
Nanofluid cooling, as the phenomenon is known, was discovered almost two decades ago, but is only now coming out of the laboratory. According to Mamoun Muhammed of Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology, one of the field’s leading researchers, three problems have stood in its way.