Inside Rensselaer
* Reaching the Boiling Point
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Silicon wafers hold copper nanorods, which are being used in Koratkar’s research.
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Reaching the Boiling Point
A new study from Rensselaer researchers shows that by adding an invisible layer of nanomaterials to the bottom of a metal vessel, an order of magnitude less energy is required to bring water to boil. This increase in efficiency could have a big impact on cooling computer chips, improving heat transfer systems, and reducing costs for industrial boiling applications.

“The increased boiling efficiency seems to be the result of an interesting interplay between the nanoscale and microscale surfaces of the treated metal,” says Nikhil Koratkar, associate professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering, who led the project. “The potential applications for this discovery are vast and exciting, and we’re eager to continue our investigations into this phenomenon.” 

Koratkar and his team found that by depositing a layer of copper nanorods on the surface of a copper vessel, the nanoscale pockets of air trapped within the forest of nanorods “feed” nanobubbles into the microscale cavities of the vessel surface and help to prevent them from getting flooded with water. This synergistic coupling effect promotes robust boiling and stable bubble nucleation, with large numbers of tiny, frequently occurring bubbles.

This new discovery allows the boiling process to become significantly more efficient, which could translate into considerable efficiency gains and cost savings if incorporated into a wide range of industrial equipment that relies on boiling to create heat or steam.

Boiling is ultimately a vehicle for heat transfer, in that it moves energy from a heat source to the bottom of a vessel and into the contained liquid, which then boils, and turns into vapor that eventually releases the heat into the atmosphere. This new discovery allows this process to become significantly more efficient, which could translate into considerable efficiency gains and cost savings if incorporated into a wide range of industrial equipment that relies on boiling to create heat or steam. 

The team’s discovery could also revolutionize the process of cooling computer chips. As the physical size of chips has shrunk significantly over the past two decades, it has become increasingly critical to develop ways to cool hot spots and transfer lingering heat away from the chip.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 2, Number 12, August 8, 2008
©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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