(WFLX) - From our computers to our cell phones, every day we rely on machines.
Now, scientists have developed a special foam to make our gadgets smaller, lighter and more energy efficient.
We rely on machines to do most of our daily activities, but most of those machines rely on a radiator to keep them from overheating. "Just about 90 percent of the world's energy eventually winds up as heat," explained Dr. James Klett, PhD Materials Scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
This often means metals, like copper or aluminum, are added to a machine's components, but that can add bulk and weight.
Now, scientists have created the perfect replacement -- graphite foam. Graphite foam can conduct heat four times better than copper. It's hard, but lightweight. It's one fifth the weight of aluminum with a unique, Swiss cheese-like structure. "The more pure, the larger these structures, the more amount of fluid those structures are. The higher the thermal conductivity is going to be of the foam," said Klett.
"You can see the graphite foam taking heat from a hand and transferring it to an ice cube, melting it," he explained. "So if you have a hot surface, a hot structure, the heat's trying to get to a cold surface somewhere."
In another demonstration, one side of this block is polyester resin, a material found in fiberglass. The other side is the same material, only it's coated with graphite foam.
When a blow torch hits the resin, it burns instantly, but when it hits the foam, it doesn't burn. That's because the foam has taken the heat from the surface so fast, the polymer can't reach it's flesh temperature. Graphite foam can withstand temperatures up to 3,200 degrees Celsius.
From computer chips to cookware, the graphite foam can be used in just about anything. "If we put the foam in the bottom of this and we distribute the heat more uniformly, it boils uniformly, it heats uniformly, and you can have more effective cooking."
Dr. Klett says graphite foam is the only material in nature that both absorbs sound and conducts heat. The foam costs about two or three times more than aluminum.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems created a space radiator for satellites using the material and they plan on using it for the first time next year.