Empowering Microscale Thermal Analysis

May 10, 2024by John Gaskins

Laser Thermal’s SSTR-F elevates the University of Maryland’s NEIT lab and beyond

Laser Thermal has made significant strides in the thermal measurement field by using optical technologies to simplify and shorten the measurement process. This innovation is crucial for industries where thermal management is a significant challenge. A company’s ability to perform thermal measurements at the nanometer and micron scale—much smaller than the diameter of a human hair—positions it uniquely in the market.

Laser Thermal specializes in providing advanced thermal measurement solutions through its flagship device, SSTR-F (Steady-State Thermoreflectance in Fiber Optics). SSTR-F is designed to measure the thermal conductivity and thermal resistance of materials, ranging from nanoscale thin films to bulk materials, with applications spanning across various industries including semiconductors, aerospace & defense and academia.

SSTR-F is a standout in the field for its capability to conduct measurements in both the through-thickness and in-plane directions, catering to a wide range of materials. It has a thermal conductivity range from 0.05 to 500 W/m•K, with a spot size of up to 20 microns, and operates within a temperature range of room temp. up to 200°C. Its design ensures high repeatability and reproducibility of measurements, making it a reliable tool for advanced thermal mapping and analysis.

SSTR-F is now part of the Nanoscale Energy and Interfacial Transport (NEIT) lab at the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering, a lab that focuses on “investigating heat transfer at nano, micro-, and mini-scale to develop novel microfluidic two-phase cold plates, phase change materials, and packaging for novel wide band gap power electronics.” [1]

“Central to the Clark School’s success are vibrant and active partnerships with industry partners, giving our students and researchers the chance to engage with leaders in the field and cutting-edge equipment. Our collaboration with Laser Thermal is one of those essential partnerships,” Clark School Dean Samuel Graham, Jr. said. “With Laser Thermal’s technology available on campus, our students can acquire skills to help them advance in the workforce, and our researchers have access to equipment that can help facilitate scientific breakthroughs.”

Supporting the DARPA Threads program, Thermal Analysis and Design of High Power GaN RF Devices, the Clark School will use the Laser Thermal SSTR-F instrument. SSTR-F will provide an understanding of the thermophysical properties of the integrated materials, thermal interface resistances, and eventually temperature measurements to verify device performance.

Broadly, the NEIT lab houses a variety of thermoreflectance and micro-Raman-based measurement capabilities that can measure the pertinent thermal properties of materials (in plane and cross plane thermal conductivity of thin films, thermal resistance at interfaces, temperature distributions in devices) as a function of temperature and in operando during operation of devices subjected to loads up to 200 V and 1.2 A.

The ability of SSTR-F to tightly focus the beams allows for position sensitive measurements of thermal properties and the ability to create thermal resistance and temperature maps of operating devices, a key thermal diagnostic to evaluate material and device design via feedback of the thermal measurements to the predictive models.

This is the type of uniquely calibrated device Laser Thermal can provide university labs to address typical and critical problems in thermal management. SSTR-F solves the challenge of accurately measuring the thermal properties of materials at micro and nanoscales.

This capability can advance research in the following ways:

  • Enhanced Quality Control and Innovation: In the semiconductor industry and other fields involving small electronics, controlling heat is paramount to ensuring the reliability, performance, and longevity of products. SSTR-F allows researchers to innovate through a better understanding of thermal behavior, leading to improved quality control and product design.
  • Preventing Overheating in Electronics: SSTR-F’s precise thermal measurements help in designing electronics that are less prone to overheating, a major cause of device failure. This issue was highlighted by incidents like the Samsung Galaxy Note 7’s battery explosions, underscoring the need for better thermal management in product development. By understanding a material’s thermal properties at very small scales, researchers can provide data that will prevent such catastrophic failures​​.
  • Simplifying and Speeding Up Thermal Measurements: Before the advent of tools like SSTR-F, thermal measurements, especially at very small scales, were labor-intensive and required extensive expertise, often involving constant oversight by scientists and doctoral students. SSTR-F simplifies this process through its fiber optic-based technology, making it accessible to a wider range of users without the need for specialized knowledge. This simplification not only speeds up the research and development process but also makes thermal testing more widespread and accessible​​​​.
  • Supporting Proactive Thermal Management: The industry has traditionally approached thermal management reactively, addressing issues only after they arise. SSTR-F enables a proactive approach by allowing detailed understanding of thermal properties early in the design process. This shift helps companies avoid thermal-related failures and design more reliable and efficient products from the outset.

By providing a tool that simplifies and speeds up thermal measurements, Laser Thermal is enabling researchers to better understand thermal issues and innovate more effectively.

Schedule a call to discuss the ways SSTR-F could revolutionize and streamline the research being conducted in your lab. Discover the difference precision thermal measurement can make in your work today.

John Gaskins

As Co-Founder and CEO of Laser Thermal, John has conducted research characterizing the mechanical, optical and thermal properties of materials for almost two decades. John received his Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from the University of Virginia in 2013.  His work developed methodologies for testing the size dependent properties in thin film structures.  After his Ph.D. John joined Patrick Hopkins’ group extending his Ph.D. work focused on mechanical property characterization to optical and thermal properties. John is leading Laser Thermal’s development of SSTR-F to provide accessible small-scale thermal conductivity measurements to industrial and academic partners.