Research & Innovation

Xian (Annie) Zhang Receives NSF Grant of $249,999 for Research in Thermal Technology

Zhang’s project will open a new route for the exploration of sustainability in future electronics

photo of Annie Zhang

Xian (Annie) Zhang, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, recently received a National Science Foundation (“NSF”) grant of $249,999 for her project “LEAPS-MPS: Tailoring the Thermal Properties of Flexible Two-Dimensional (2D) Heterostructures.” The research objective of this project is to examine the fundamental aspects of thermal transport in two-dimensional (2D) heterostructures and achieve efficient thermal control via structural tailoring.

Recent advances in atomically thin crystals derived from layered materials have enabled the creation of two-dimensional (2D) heterostructures with unique properties. These heterostructures have a variety of applications, including wearable devices, microelectronics cooling, and generation of electricity from waste heat (thermoelectricity). One challenge for flexible electronics based on 2D materials is managing heat under mechanical stress while maintaining performance. Further innovations require an efficient thermal control strategy to address this issue.

This research advances the current frontiers of two-dimensional materials and devices. This study is expected to elucidate the essential thermal physics and open a new route for the exploration of future electronics by leveraging unique thermal properties of 2D materials and structures.

“It is like using the paper cut technique to create art on nano-scaled materials in order to change the heat flow paths, which cools the electronics made from it and thus enhance their final performance,” Zhang said.

Additionally, this work addresses the grand challenge of global sustainable energy solutions by enabling innovative design solutions of electronic devices. The project will use thermal technology as a motivator to engage students via interactive games about the wave nature of thermal transport, workshops and curriculum cross linking art and engineering, and provide mentorship opportunities for women students. The outcome of this project is expected to be a major leap in fundamental understanding of structure-thermal couplings, enabling unprecedented thermal control methods and revolutionizing future electronic platforms.

“The most exciting aspect of this work is that it opens a new route for the exploration of future electronics by leveraging unique thermal properties of nano-scaled materials. At the same time, our proposed method — structural tailoring to achieve efficient thermal control — will help to elucidate new physics phenomena,” Zhang said. “The most important application of this work is that it addresses the grand challenge of global sustainable energy solutions.”

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