The world's quietest microchip fan

In case you haven't heard about one of the latest electronic components to surface in the mobile market, I'm taking the time to introduce it to you. It's called the "solid state fan" and I think you'll agree that this could make a huge splash in the evolution of the mobile device market.

The fan, which measures 15 mm x 15 mm x 2 mm, has no moving parts and uses the process of ionization to create air flow with the purpose of dissipating heat from mobile electronic devices, such as laptop PCs, hand helds and even cell phones.

One thought that almost immediately crossed my mind when I first saw this device was, "why didn't I think of that?" I must have seen the use of ionization to create air flow a hundred times in that Ionic Breeze air purification infomercial late at night. Often, it's the simplest ideas that are the best.

I was so impressed with a silent fan on a microchip that I called its inventor, Dan Schlitz, who founded Thorrn Micro Technologies, Inc. in Marietta, Ga., in order to find out more about it. Schlitz told me that in 2001 he was attending Purdue University's doctoral program when he mentioned his idea for the fan to a professor. The professor encouraged him to pursue development of a product and to get seed money from the National Science Foundation, which Schlitz was able to do. Schlitz and fellow graduate student, Vishal Singhal, then founded Thorrn Micro Technologies in Marietta, Ga., to work on thermo semiconductor research.

To date, the pair has developed a prototype of the solid state fan called the RSD5, which you can watch in this video created by the NSF.


Depending on the size - the smaller the better -- the fan is purported to use less energy than its mechanical counterparts. "We out perform them by a lot," said Schlitz. Thorrn Micro published a chart on its website comparing its technology to three other, larger, mechanical fans. 

Schlitz believes his product will allow mobile manufacturers to include more circuitry and greater functionality in their products because to date, they've had inefficient or no ways to dissipate heat in hand-held products.

Schlitz said his micro-fan technology, while best suited for the mobile marketplace, may also someday be upsized for PCs and servers -- the big benefit being quietness, not energy efficiency. "There's nothing stopping us from scaling up, but mechanical fans get more efficient as they get bigger."

Schlitz said it's likely that his company will have a working product within a year. "Whether we make it or someone else does is the question," he said.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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