Determining programmed characteristics for smart thermal material using topology optimization
There are currently several mechanisms that are capable of actively or passively altering their thermal conductivity. These technologies, which include thermal diodes, thermal regulators, and thermal switches, have often been used to keep sensitive electrical components within their operating temperature. However, the current generations of these devices can only be utilized as individual components due to their large size. If they were to be made sufficiently small, they could act as the bits of a smart thermal material that can locally adjust its thermal conductivity. Such a material would have numerous thermal management applications.
My project, conducted under the mentorship of Dr. Jennifer Lukes, focused on determining the feasibility of using commercial topology optimization software to decide the characteristics to program the theoretical smart thermal material with. Since thermal topology optimization is still an emerging field, the functionality of commercial software is limited. Thus, much of my time was spent on learning to use ANSYS Workbench, a simulation software, and determining its capabilities and restrictions. Once I had a strong understanding of the software’s limitations, I was able to ascertain which of the material’s applications the software could be used for. The case where the material acted as a PCB substrate and locally modified its thermal conductivity to avoid the overheating of sensitive electrical components was chosen. ANSYS Workbench was used to calculate the ideal behavior of the material in this situation and simulate the material’s performance.