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IBM Researchers Try to Build Thermal Management Into Microfluidic Chip Designs

Microelectronics experts at IBM Corp. are taking the next step in a U.S. military research program to design convective or evaporative microfluidic cooling directly into microchip designs and packaging.

Officials of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, announced a $2.3 million contract Tuesday to the IBM Thomas J Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., for an application option exercise related to the Intrachip/Interchip Enhanced Cooling (ICECool) electronics cooling program.  The Air Force Research Lab awarded the contract on behalf of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., which is overseeing the ICECool thermal management program.

DARPA awarded IBM a $5 million contract to IBM two years ago for the ICECool Fundamentals program — the first phase in the project to explore revolutionary new thermal-management technologies for military electronics to help designers make substantial reductions in size, weight, and power consumption (SWaP).

In the ICECool Fundamentals program IBM developed some of the fundamental building blocks of intra- and interchip evaporative microfluidic cooling.

Related: DARPA releases solicitation for ICECool thermal-management program for embedded computing

In the DARPA ICECool Fundamentals program IBM researchers investigated ways to alleviate cooling limitations of advanced military electronics by integrating thermal management techniques into the chip layout, substrate structure, and package design, not only to shrink on-chip cooling, but also to enhance overall electronics performance.

Essentially, IBM experts focused on ways to make cooling just as important as any other aspect of chip design, and use embedded thermal management to enhance the performance of military electronics. Integrating chips with convective or evaporative microfluidic cooling, DARPA officials say, has the potential to speed the evolution of advanced chip integration.

IBM researchers were to demonstrate chip-level heat removal in excess of 1 kilowatt per square centimeter heat flux, as well as 1 kilowatt per cubic centimeter heat density with thermal control of local submillimeter hot spots with heat flux exceeding 5 kilowatts per square centimeter.

IBM investigated microfabrication techniques to implement thermal interconnects and evaporative microfluidics in several microchanneled semiconductor chips. Company experts considered intrachip cooling with evaporative flows in microchannel flow loops — either within the chips themselves, or in the microgaps between chips in 3D chip stacks.

For more information contact the IBM Watson Research Center online at, the DARPA Microelectronics Technology Office (MTO) at, or the Air Force Research Lab at

Source: Military Aerospace


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