Bringing objects close together can boost radiation heat transfer, break physical law

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Washington, July 31 (ANI): In a new study, MIT researchers have determined that a well-established physical law, which describes the transfer of heat between two objects, should break down when the objects are very close together.

Scientists had never been able to confirm, or measure, this breakdown in practice.

For the first time, however, MIT researchers have achieved this feat, and determined that the heat transfer can be 1,000 times greater than the law predicts.

The new findings could lead to significant new applications, including better design of the recording heads of the hard disks used for computer data storage, and new kinds of devices for harvesting energy from heat that would otherwise be wasted.

Planck's blackbody radiation law, formulated in 1900 by German physicist Max Planck, describes how energy is dissipated, in the form of different wavelengths of radiation, from an idealized non-reflective black object, called a blackbody.

The law says that the relative thermal emission of radiation at different wavelengths follows a precise pattern that varies according to the temperature of the object.

The emission from a blackbody is usually considered as the maximum that an object can radiate.

The law works reliably in most cases, but Planck himself had suggested that when objects are very close together, the predictions of his law would break down.

But, actually controlling objects to maintain the tiny separations required to demonstrate this phenomenon has proved incredibly difficult.

Part of the problem in measuring the way energy is radiated when objects are very close is the mechanical difficulty of maintaining two objects in very close proximity, without letting them actually touch.

Gang Chen, MIT's Carl Richard Soderberg Professor of Power Engineering and director of the Pappalardo Micro and Nano Engineering Laboratories Chen and his team, graduate student Sheng Shen and Columbia University Professor Arvind Narayaswamy, solved this problem in two ways.

First, instead of using two flat surfaces and trying to maintain a tiny gap between them, they used a flat surface next to a small round glass bead, whose position is easier to control.

Then, they used the technology of the bi-metallic cantilever from an atomic-force microscope to measure the temperature changes with great precision.

By using the glass (silica) beads, they were able to get separations as small as 10 nanometers (10 billionths of a meter, or one-hundredth the distance achieved before), and are now working on getting even closer spacings.

Professor Sir John Pendry of Imperial College London, who has done extensive work in this field, calls the results "very exciting," noting that theorists have long predicted such a breakdown in the formula and the activation of a more powerful mechanism. (ANI)

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