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Research Highlight: DICHTEL

Researchers create new polymer-based electrical insulation for smaller microchips

From slimmer laptops to smaller smartphones, all of our most-used devices rely on increasingly smaller microchips. But, in recent years, researchers have seemingly hit the limit on how far these chips can shrink. One of the biggest hurdles to putting more circuits and power onto a smaller chip is managing the heat. As chips become smaller, heat increases exponentially. Not only are there more transistors in a given area, which generates more heat in a small space, they also are closer together, making it harder for heat to dissipate.

Northwestern’s William Dichtel and UVA’s Patrick Hopkins are co-senior authors of the paper. Northwestern coauthors also include professors Mark HersamMichael Bedzyk and Vinod Sangwan. Research teams from the University of Arizona, led by Jean-Luc Brédas, and the University of California, led by Feng Wang, also contributed to the work. Called “low-k” dielectrics, electrical insulation materials minimize electrical crosstalk in chips. By steering current to eliminate signal interference, low-k dielectrics are the silent hero that make all electronics possible. Ideally, this material type also could pull damaging, electrical current-generated heat away from the circuitry. But because low-k materials have very low thermal conductivity, they have been previously unable to manage heat.  

The research was published March 18 in the journal Nature Materials.

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