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Near-field radiative heat transfer between parallel structures in the deep subwavelength regime


Thermal radiation between parallel objects separated by deep subwavelength distances and subject to large thermal gradients (>100 K) can reach very high magnitudes, while being concentrated on a narrow frequency distribution. These unique characteristics could enable breakthrough technologies for thermal transport control1,2,3 and electricity generation4,5,6,7,8 (for example, by radiating heat exactly at the bandgap frequency of a photovoltaic cell). However, thermal transport in this regime has never been achieved experimentally due to the difficulty of maintaining large thermal gradients over nanometre-scale distances while avoiding other heat transfer mechanisms, namely conduction. Here, we show near-field radiative heat transfer between parallel SiC nanobeams in the deep subwavelength regime. The distance between the beams is controlled by a high-precision micro-electromechanical system (MEMS). We exploit the mechanical stability of nanobeams under high tensile stress to minimize thermal buckling effects, therefore keeping control of the nanometre-scale separation even at large thermal gradients. We achieve an enhancement of heat transfer of almost two orders of magnitude with respect to the far-field limit (corresponding to a 42 nm separation) and show that we can maintain a temperature gradient of 260 K between the cold and hot surfaces at 100 nm distance.

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Figure 1: Device overview and operating principle.
Figure 2: Exploiting tensile stress to avoid thermomechanical deformations.
Figure 3: Measurement of temperature changes as a function of nanobeam separation.
Figure 4: Heat transfer in the deep subwavelength regime over a wide range of temperatures.


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The authors acknowledge support from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for award FA8650-14-1-7406, supervised by Avram Bar-Cohen. This work made use of the Cornell Center for Materials Research Shared Facilities, which are supported through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers programme (DMR-1120296), and the Cornell NanoScale Facility, a member of the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, which is supported by the NSF (grant ECCS-0335765). R.S.G. held subsequent postdoctoral fellowships from the Fonds de recherche du Québec−Nature et Technologies (FRQNT) and from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) during this work.

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All authors participated in conceiving the experiment, discussed the results and commented on the manuscript. R.S.G. conceived of the MEMS platform, performed the µ-SiC material characterization, fabricated the device, performed the experimental measurements and drafted the manuscript. L.Z. performed the Fourier modal method heat transfer simulations. R.S.G. and L.Z. interpreted the experimental data.

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Correspondence to Michal Lipson.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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St-Gelais, R., Zhu, L., Fan, S. et al. Near-field radiative heat transfer between parallel structures in the deep subwavelength regime. Nature Nanotech 11, 515–519 (2016).

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