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IBM Researchers Use Sandcastle Mechanics to Improve Heat Dissipation in Stacked Chips

When kids build sandcastles on the beach, they usually don’t think about the physics involved—unless they have an IQ of 170 and received early admission to MIT. But maybe they should. After all, the science behind a day at the beach represents a new approach IBM Research is taking toward building stacked chips.

Based on what’s called capillary bridging, the approach includes injecting nanoparticle-filled liquids into stacks, letting the liquid evaporate and then creating necks that allow for greater heat dissipation in 3-D stacks than traditional methods.

“With the research we’re conducting, the necks are formed by adding a mix of liquid and nanoparticles, followed by evaporation of the liquid, which pulls the nanoparticles into the contact zones between the large particles.”
—Gerd Schlottig, IBM researcher

According to Gerd Schlottig, IBM researcher, this helps the concept of 3-D chip stacking for high-performance applications move from the experimental to the practical, overcoming the seemingly insurmountable problem of ever-faster computers drawing more and more energy from the power grid.

Q. What’s the significance of stacked chips?
There are two perspectives regarding that. One, when we go in the direction of a third dimension we can create chip technology that’s much more energy efficient than what we have now. Second, hardware systems can continue to scale in performance more than two or three years ahead of time when we go in a third dimension.

These factors are key because IT hardware consumes quite a significant amount of energy. In Europe, for example, information and communications hardware are consuming around 10 percent of the grid right now. In Western Europe, they consume about 100 billion kilowatt hours each year, which is more than the consumption of one of the smaller European countries. From both environmental and economic points of view, it’s important we try to reduce that consumption while also keeping it constant to get more value out of the same figure.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.

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