|Illustration of the quartz plates used to measure heat transfer. The coloured regions are electrodes used to position the plates. Courtesy: M Ghashami et al/Phys. Rev. Lett.)|
Topics: Electrical Engineering, Experimental Physics, Thermodynamics
New insights into why heat transfer between objects is enhanced at very short separations have been gleaned by Keunhan Park and colleagues at the University of Utah and University of Pittsburgh in the US. The team made exquisitely precise measurements of how heat moves between two quartz plates that are positioned just 200 nm apart. They found that energy transfer is enhanced by about 45 times at tiny separations, which they ascribe to the coupling of surface photon polaritons across the gap between the plates.
Normally, the heat transfer between two objects at different temperatures can be approximated by assuming that the objects are “black bodies”. These are ideal entities that absorb all radiation falling on them and emit thermal radiation according to Planck’s law. Physicists have known for some time that this breaks down when objects get to within a few hundred nanometres of each other, where they exchange heat much faster than predicted by the black-body approximation. Indeed, this “near-field” enhancement has already been used in some technologies including heat extraction and thermophotovoltaic systems.
However, more widespread use of the enhancement has been hampered by a poor understanding of the effect – which is a result of significant experimental difficulties in measuring heat transfer between objects separated by just a few hundred nanometres. These challenges include controlling unwanted heat flow and achieving precise control over the orientation and separation of the two objects.
Surface phonon polaritons boost heat transfer, Hamish Johnston, Physics World