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Physics Professor Broido Honored For Work In Energy Conservation

Boston College physics professor David Broido was recently elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the second largest organization of physicists in the world.

This makes him one of four members in his department at BC to have received this honor, in his case for his research on theoretical heat conductivity in solid materials which can be used to maximize the efficiency of and minimize the effect on heating and cooling devices to the environment.

One half of one percent of the American Physical Society become fellows every year, making these fellowships a major point of distinction within the organization. This honor is well-deserved, if not overdue for Broido, said Professor Michael Naughton, head of the BC physics department.

Broido’s achievement is significant, not only for BC, but for society as a whole, Naughton said, because of the role of his area of research, thermo electrics, plays in addressing environmental concerns.

As energy usage shifts away from reliance on fossil fuels and toward electric power, materials that make particularly good and bad conductors of heat are needed in the conversion of heat to electricity in heating and cooling, according to Naughton.
According to the American Physical Association, Broido received the award for his work on “seminal theoretical contributions to the fundamental understanding of thermal and thermoelectric transport in bulk and nanostructured materials.”

Professor Broido’s research is theoretical as opposed to experimental, and has yielded a potential synthetic material that could be used very effectively. Broido explained the problems that scientists face in finding a substance that is a good conductor of heat, has other properties, and is also cost effective to produce as the ultimate purpose of it is to use it in heating and cooling devices.

For example, he said that diamond was found to be one of the best conductors of heat, but is costly to use and synthetically manufacture. This echoes many critiques of electrical energy devices such as electric cars, which are said to be inefficient in how they use electricity.

“Energy usage creates a large amount of wasted heat that this research is trying to make use of by converting into energy efficiently,” Broido said.

He does this using predictive computer models to find out how heat would flow through different materials. This approach allows him to show what synthetic materials could work, even before making and testing them.

Broido receives funding for this research from the national science and is associated with MIT. He has taught a wide range of courses to undergraduate and graduate students, and works with students one-on-one critiquing their research.

His research into an obscure synthetic material, boron arsenide, previously not thought to be as good a conductor as diamond, has yielded results that say otherwise, and could affect how devices we use everyday, like computer chips, are made.

As scientists try and make smaller and smaller electronic devices, the issue of heat emission within a device becomes a problem and must be addressed so that a computer ship does not overheat, he said.

February 2, 2015