UCLA Engineering-led Team of Researchers Awarded $3.8 million to Conduct Research on Electronics Cooling

By Wileen Wong Kromhout

An interdisciplinary team of researchers led by UCLA professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Sungtaek Ju recently received a $3.8 million award from the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA) to conduct innovative research and development in the area of electronics cooling for the next three years. DARPA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military.

Other participants of the research program include Ivan Catton, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Bruce Dunn, professor of materials science and engineering; Massoud Kaviany, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan; and engineers from Advanced Cooling Technologies, Inc., based in Pennsylvania.

As electronic system technology advances, there has been increasing pressure on the thermal engineering and heat rejection technologies used. Despite efforts to achieve dramatic reductions in power consumption in specific electronic devices, the need for performance inevitably leads to operation of most electronic systems at the limits of the available thermal management technology.

DARPA has asked the research team, based at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, to come up with technology that would enhance the cooling of electronic devices to improve the performance of their military electronics. The RF and microwave circuit that is used in constructing radars and communications devices are the primary applications for the military and can be air, ground or sea based. The new cooling system created will ultimately help military electronics in these areas to respond better, more quickly and more efficiently.

The overall goal of the new research program is the creation of a thin, lightweight substrate dubbed thermal ground planes (TGPs) with the thermal conductivity at least 100 times higher than those of common copper alloy substrates used in these applications. TGPs will be particularly important for enhancing existing systems that are highly constrained in size and weight, including air-borne electronic radar arrays and other avionics.

By working with a premier electronics cooling technology manufacturing company, the UCLA-led team will also rapidly transition breakthrough fundamental research into commercial technology. The new technology will enable a new generation of high-performance, integrated systems to operate at high power density without problems from temperature gradients, increased weight, or added complexity.