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The surprising discovery of a new way to tune and enhance thermal conductivity -- a basic property generally considered to be fixed for a given material -- gives engineers a new tool for managing thermal effects in smart phones and computers, lasers and a number of other powered devices.

The finding was made by a group of engineers headed by Deyu Li, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University, and published online in the journal Nature Nanotechnology on Dec. 11.

Li and his collaborators discovered that the thermal conductivity of a pair of thin strips of material called boron nanoribbons can be enhanced by up to 45 percent depending on the process that they used to stick the two ribbons together. Although the research was conducted with boron nanoribbons, the results are generally applicable to other thin film materials.

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