Researchers at Purdue University have demonstrated an 'ionic wind engine' that promises to reduce the heat generated by semiconductors at a faster rate than is possible with traditional cooling technologies.

The experimental cooling device consists of an anode - a wire with a positive charge - positioned 10 millimeters above an array of cathodes, which are negatively charged. As current runs through the device, the cathodes discharge electrons towards the anode. When these electrons collide with molecules in the air, they produce ions with a positive charge that are drawn back to the cathodes, creating an ionic wind that increases airflow on the surface of a mock chip.

The ability to increase airflow on the surface of the chip allows it to cool faster. Conventional cooling devices are limited by the fact that air molecules closest to the surface do not move, and molecules move progressively faster the further away they are from the surface, Purdue said.

"This phenomenon hinders computer cooling because it restricts airflow where it is most needed, directly on the chip's hot surface," the university said.

Purdue said the ionic wind engine can increase the rate at which a chip cools, called the heat transfer coefficient, by up to 250 percent. Details of their findings will be published in the September 1 issue of the Journal of Applied Physics.

That paper was authored by David Go, a mechanical engineering doctoral student, Suresh Garimella, a professor of mechanical engineering, Timothy Fisher, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Rajiv Mongia, an Intel research engineer. Raul Maturana, an undergraduate mechanical engineering student, was also credited with assisting the research.

The next step in Purdue's research into ionic wind engines involves reducing the size of the ionic wind engine from millimeters to microns, or millionths of a meter, so that it can be used on production chips, the university said.