The review and perspective “State-of-the-Art Opportunities and Challenges in Bottom-up Synthesis of Polymers with High Thermal Conductivity” by Yanfei Xu, assistant professor in mechanical and industrial engineering and an adjunct professor in chemical engineering at UMass Amherst, has been selected by the journal Polymer Chemistry to be part of its Emerging Investigators Series. The series gathers the best work from polymer scientists in the early stages of their independent careers as recognition of their potential to influence future directions in the field.
In the paper, Xu and her Ph.D. students, Yurui Liu and Yijie Zhou, provide an overview on advances and challenges with engineering highly thermally conductive polymers. Turning polymer insulators into heat conductors will provide new possibilities for thermal management applications, for example, better heat dissipation for optical and electronic devices from LED lamps and central processing units (CPUs).
“To ensure the performance and reliability of these devices, heat conductors with ultrahigh thermal conductivity are highly desired for heat dissipation,” says Xu. “In contrast to traditional heat conductors such as metals and ceramics, common polymers are thermal insulators. However, polymers have unique combined properties that include lightweight, chemical resistance, electrical insulation and easy processing, which are not available from any other materials.”
For those reasons, the ability to turn polymer insulators into heat conductors with metal-like thermal conductivity “is of substantial fundamental interest and technological importance for thermal management applications,” Xu says. Those applications include parts for cell phones, computers and other electronic devices that need to transfer heat away from internal processors and screens.
One of the hurdles to achieve this is the current inability to engineer scalable and bulk polymers with ultrahigh thermal conductivity because thermal transport mechanisms in polymers are not fully understood.
“In this paper, we discuss various bottom-up synthesis strategies aimed at achieving highly thermally conductive polymers, we investigate relationships between polymer structures and thermal transport properties and we highlight current challenges within the design and synthesizing of highly thermally conductive polymers,” she says .
Xu suggests future endeavors regarding research challenges in thermally conductive polymers. As importantly, Xu emphasized the potential possibilities and inspiring opportunities for future applications of thermally conductive polymers with metal-like thermal conductivity. Read the paper: https://doi.org/10.1039/D2PY00272H. Additionally, the artwork in the paper was chosen to appear on the front cover of Polymer Chemistry.