College of Science and Engineering, UMN
Hard Science

Electron Microscope Observations Show Heat Moves at the Speed of Sound

This observation could lead to alternative-energy technologies.

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College of Science and Engineering, UMN

With the help of a state-of-the-art ultrafast electron microscope, researchers from the University of Minnesota have successfully recorded the very first videos showing how heat moves through materials at the nanoscale, traveling at the speed of sound.

In the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers detailed their findings about the roles played by individual atoms and nanoscale features that could aid in the development of more efficient devices and alternative-energy technologies.

The researchers used an FEI Tecnai™ Femto ultrafast electron microscope (UEM) for the study. The microscope can examine the dynamics of materials at the molecular and atomic scale at speeds measured in femtoseconds (a millionth of a billionth of a second) looking for waves of energy.

“As soon as we saw the waves, we knew it was an extremely exciting observation,” says David Flannigan, lead researcher and assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science in the University of Minnesota. He compares the sight to watching “ripples in a pond.”

“Actually watching this process happen at the nanoscale is a dream come true,” he adds.

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