New Design Principle Enables Insulation Breakthrough

Here in the northern hemisphere it is getting cold this time of year. Naturally, it is appropriate that researchers at the University of Oregon have made a breakthrough in materials science that stops cold dead in its tracks. David C. Johnson, a professor of chemistry and member of the UO Materials Science Institute, describes why the random stacking of tungsten-diselenide planes (WSe2) creates such a good insulator.

"The reason for the extraordinarily low thermal conductivity that we've now achieved is an unusual structure which is crystalline in two directions but has a subtle rotational disorder in the direction of low-heat conduction," Johnson said.

While this new material is not a candidate for house insulation or other such large-scale applications, it does provide a new principle on which other materials could be based. This design created a material that was six times less thermally conductive then they expected, and it is 30 times less conductive then what the crystal would be in a single layer- I can't help but think about how an Abalone shell is 3,000 times stronger then the crystal alone due to a similar layer strategy. Regardless, the ability to create this kind of a material will be important in new electronic technology.

"Thermal conductivity is an important property in both conserving energy and in converting between forms of energy," Johnson said. "Obtaining low thermal conductivity in a thermoelectric material, which converts temperature gradients into electrical energy, increases efficiency."

:: University of Oregon

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