Washington, Sept 30 : Ever felt a burning sensation on your lap after working on a laptop for too long? Well, that's the feeling of physics hitting the limit. Now, a research team lead by an Indian-origin scientist has found a way to solve the problem.
The trouble, say researchers at the University of Virginia's School of Engineering and Applied Science, could be solved by using nanoelectronics, which is considered the essential science for powering the next generation of computers.
"Laptops are very hot now, so hot that they are not 'lap' tops anymore. The prediction is that if we continue at our current pace of miniaturization, these devices will be as hot as the sun in 10 to 20 years," said Avik Ghosh, an assistant professor in the Charles L. Brown Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
In their study, Ghosh and colleague Mircea Stan are re-examining nothing less than the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that, left to itself, heat will transfer from a hotter unit to a cooler one- in this case between electrical computer components - until both have roughly the same temperature. The final stage is called "thermal equilibrium."
But, in order to break the law, the researchers need to solve a scientifically controversial, and theoretical, puzzle known as "Maxwell's Demon." The concept states that the energy flow from hot to cold could be disrupted if the transfer of energy between two units could be controlled.
Maxwell's Demon would allow one component to take the heat while the other worked at a lower temperature, which could only be possible by reducing the degree of natural disorder, or entropy. And that's the "demon" in Maxwell's Demon.
"Device engineering is typically based on operating near thermal equilibrium," said Ghosh.
However, he claimed that nature has examples of biological cells that operate outside thermal equilibrium.
"Chlorophyll, for example, can convert photons into energy in highly efficient ways that seem to violate traditional thermodynamic expectations," he said.
The researchers will also explore a closely related concept, Brownian "ratchets," which recommends that devices could be engineered to convert non-equilibrium electrical activity into directed motion, allowing energy to be harvested from a heat source.
If researchers prove to be successful in making computers with components that operate outside thermal equilibrium, it could mean better computer performance, which would at least guarantee that your laptop wouldn't burst into flames as it processes larger amounts of information at faster speeds.
Also, because it would operate at extremely low power levels and would have the ability to harness, or scavenge, power dissipated by other functions, battery life would increase.
The duo now hope to bridge the concept of tackling Maxwell's Demon and Brownian ratchets from theoretical physics to engineered technologies.
"These theories have been looked at from a physics perspective for years, but not from the perspective of electrical engineering. So that's where we are trying to break some ground," said Stan.