Researchers at Penn State have cooked up a new plastic that can be cooled by simply running a current through it. It uses the electrocaloric effect to rearrange its individual atoms when charged, allowing for heat to more easily come and go. By wrapping up a chip in the stuff and zapping it with current, researchers hope they've found a way to make more efficient heatsinks for laptops and other gear with small, hot enclosures. Right now the process requires too much voltage to be feasible (120v, rather than the couple of volts your laptop battery could give it), but manufacturing improvements could make it ready for prime time, and Intel seems interested.
Says Rajiv Mongia, an Intel engineer:
"The fact that they've been able to develop a polymer-type material that can be used in a relatively thin film is worth a second look [compared with previous ceramic heatsinks that worked the same way] ," Mongia says. "Also, it's working in a temperature range that is of interest to us."