High-Contrast, Reversible Thermal Conductivity Regulation Utilizing the Phase Transition of Polyethylene Nanofibers

T Zhang and TF Luo, ACS NANO, 7, 7592-7600 (2013).

DOI: 10.1021/nn401714e

Reversible thermal conductivity regulation at the nanoscale is of great interest to a wide range of applications such as thermal management, phononics, sensors, and energy devices. Through a series of large-scale molecular dynamics simulations, we demonstrate a thermal conductivity regulation utilizing the phase transition of polyethylene nanofibers, enabling a thermal conductivity tuning factor of as high as 12, exceeding all previously reported values. The thermal conductivity change roots from the segmental rotations along the polymer chains, which introduce along-chain morphology disorder that significantly interrupts phonon transport along the molecular chains. This phase transition, which can be regulated by temperature, strain, or their combinations, is found to be fully reversible in the polyethylene nanofibers and can happen at a narrow temperature window. The phase change temperature can be further tuned by engineering the diameters of the nanofibers, making such a thermal conductivity regulation scheme adaptable to different application needs. The findings can stimulate significant research interest in nanoscale heat transfer control.

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