Computers are always getting smaller and more powerful, but shrinking things down isn't just a matter of developing better electronics. A great number of practical things need to be considered when cramming technology into a small space. For example, the simple need to keep things cool. More powerful stuff pushed closer together without just the right way to cool down means melting or fires, neither of which people want. Engineers think they've come up with a solution to the heating problem, though: Armor made of silver and diamonds.
Image Credit: Georgia Tech and Gary Meek.
Diamonds have a few unusual qualities; they're very hard, they share with water the ability to get less dense when going from liquid to solid, and they're able to sucker people into paying a lot of money for a pebble. One of their lesser known qualities is their unusually high thermal conductivity. They are the neoprene shirts of heat - they just whisk it away. The only difference is, they're natural. Diamonds are the most thermally conductive natural material in the world. Surrounding a heating semiconductor with diamonds will allow heat to travel quickly away from the expensive electronics and out to cooler climes.
Researchers tried grinding up diamonds and surrounding electronics with the very expensive dust, but the dust was too loose. It wouldn't hold together. They looked for some kind of malleable material to integrate the diamonds into, and found that silver also had a high thermal conductivity, although not as high as that of diamonds. The scientists created a mesh of silver interwoven with diamonds, and found the substance very useful. It expanded with heat the way that the semi-conductors it enveloped expanded. It could be molded and cut to precise sizes. And it kept the loose diamonds from getting into things they shouldn't.
As technology shrinks, the diamond and silver matrix may become the norm. We'll just have to get used to our computer parts being draped in a substance that looks like Frodo's protective elf mail in Lord of the Rings.