What's inside the world's fastest heat conductor?

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/09/12/whats-inside-the-worlds-fa.html


What are these things used for?

State change is where it’s at if you want to move energy around.

It’s why hand boilers are fun, what makes reusable heating packs possible, and it’s the reason evacuated solar collectors are so effective.

The spongy copper detail is a good idea.


They used to be rather specialty items, but now are used quite a bit in coolers for personal computer CPUs and in some other consumer electronics applications that have high thermal power, like audio amplifiers.

In particular, the heat pipe’s engineering niche seems to be in getting the heat from where the component is most conveniently placed on your printed circuit board, to the place where your large heat sinks are most conveniently located on the chassis.


For thermo nerds: How do you determine how much work can this bird do?


They’re about $10/each on ebay, if you want to play with one yourself. I do!


That’s very exciting, and I do want to play with one. But I will nit-pick the implication that it is a good conductor of heat. If the heat transport was happening by conduction alone (as in a regular metal bar), then the thermal current would just depend on the temperature difference between the source and sink. But because this heat pipe uses mass transport, its “conductivity” will also depend on the absolute temperature, in a very non-linear way. If the whole pipe is hot enough to boil the coolant inside, then it will act the same as a regular copper pipe (or worse, since it’s filled with insulating low-pressure gas).


Some smartphones also use heat pipes- search “samsung heatpipe”- though they are being used less with thinner and thinner designs. iPhones apparently do not use any.

But if you follow some of the other heatpipe links, there are also more efficient “vapor chambers” that I’ll very simplistically describe as 2D versions of linear heat pipes. These are being used more in high power CPU coolers.

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