New Unified Theory of Heat Transport Enables Materials Design

Heat flow image
Understanding heat flow is critical to understanding materials, from new electronics to the Earth’s mantle. UC Davis and Italian scientists have a new model that makes it possible to calculate heat flow through both crystals and glassy materials.

A new theory of heat transport will make it easier to simulate properties of materials, with implications for technology, energy systems and planetary sciences.

Heat flows from warm areas to cool just as time flows from past to future and is a defining feature of physics. Yet scientists have found it surprisingly hard to build a theory of heat transport that works for both glasses and crystalline solids. That makes it difficult to model heat flow through materials, such as electronic components or the Earth’s mantle.

Professor Davide Donadio, UC Davis Department of Chemistry, Professor Stefano Baroni at SISSA (Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati) in Trieste, Italy and colleagues have now come up with a theory that does exactly that. With the MaX EU Centre for Supercomputing Applications, they derived a new unified equation that works for crystals, glasses and for semi-ordered materials that lie in between. Such materials are of high interest for technological applications, so understanding their thermal properties is potentially very important.

The new theory opens the way to computer simulations of the thermal properties of a vast class of materials that have previously dodged a proper computational treatment, Donadio said.

The work is published Aug. 26 in Nature Communications.

— Andy Fell, UC Davis Strategic Communications, for the Egghead blog