New Technology Manages Heat Flow

Is this the future of outerwear?

Advanced control of heat flow could lead to major developments in outdoor tech (Jochen Sand/Thinkstock)
Photo: Jochen Sand/Thinkstock News Outside Online

A study out of Purdue University has refined a technology that might be able to manage the flow of heat. Similar to devices that control the direction of electrical currents, these findings could potentially control heat flow in everything from electronics to textiles.

"For example, on a winter night you don't want a building to lose heat quickly to the outside, while during the day you want the building to be warmed up by the sun, so it would be good to have building materials that permit the flow of heat in one direction but not the other," explained Xiulin Ruan, an associate professor at Purdue.

“Asymmetric grapheme nanoribbons” were the missing link. Researchers believe these new findings will allow the use of thermal control in a variety of applications, including computers, electronics, buildings, and clothing.

Thermal rectification has been studied extensively before; however, this new study has made a breakthrough in discovering the use of minuscule triangular or T-shaped structures to permit more heat flow in one direction than the other.


Researchers are proposing a new technology that controls the flow of heat the way electronic devices control electrical current. Triangular graphene nanoribbons (a) are proposed as a new thermal rectifier, in which the heat flow in one direction is larger than that in the opposite direction. Thermal rectification (b) is not limited to graphene, but can also be seen in other "asymmetric nanostructure materials" including thin films, pyramidal quantum dots, nanocones and triangles. (Purdue University image)

Image: Courtesy of Purdue University

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