Ever since I started studying mechanical engineering I have had a particular interest in thermodynamics and heat transfer. Consequently, I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to develop and pursue my own research into the field. Working on this research has taught me volumes about heat transfer and research methodologies that I would not otherwise have experienced. In this regard, working on this research project has proved an overwhelmingly positive experience, and I am glad I received this opportunity.This summer, I have had the unique privilege of undertaking research into lightweight heat exchangers through an intensive URSP grant.
In particular, my project seeks to evaluate the potential of a particular material, carbon foam, to serve as an alternative material for cooling a computer processor. In order to make this comparison, I have built a simplified case with a 5 square inch channel, inside of which I can place different heat exchangers on top of a heater assembly that produces approximately 90 watts of heat at maximum power. I also have two fans in a push-pull configuration that simulate the case fans found on desktop computers. In order to test the heat exchangers, I turn on the fans and the heater and let them run long enough to reach steady-state, or equilibrium, conditions. I then compare their convection coefficients, a measure of heat transfer, and the base temperatures they are able to maintain. Higher convection coefficients and lower base temperatures are desirable, and indicated better thermal performance. This provides a common methodology for evaluating the performance of different heatsinks for a given amount of heat that must be removed to ensure the safe operation of the system. All in all, this has been a fascinating experience and I recommend for anyone interested in performing undergraduate research.