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updated 1/11/2012 5:17:53 PM ET 2012-01-11T22:17:53

Overheating could easily damage all those expensive laptops and smartphones were it not for cooling fans or heat-transferring materials. Now, a new graphene material capable of conducting heat 20 times faster than silicon could make the next generation of electronic devices quieter and longer-lasting.

The experimental graphene made by U.S. and Chinese researchers has also proven 60 percent more effective at transferring heat than typical graphene — a carbon sheet just one atom thick. Such a material could eventually become a part of computer chips alongside silicon, as well as whisk heat away from solar panels, radar, security systems and imaging gadgets.

"The performance of an electronic device degrades as it heats up, and if it continues, the device fails," said Kyeongjae Cho, associate professor of materials science and engineering and physics at the University of Texas at Dallas. "The faster heat is removed, the more efficient the device runs and the longer it lasts."

Efficient heat removal would also allow for smaller and more-powerful electronic devices that not only put computing power in everyone's hands, but also allow for smarter gadgets connected to sensors and the Internet.

The secret to graphene's success comes from its makeup. Natural carbon is found in concentrations of about 99 percent "carbon 12" and 1 percent "carbon 13," based on differences in its atomic mass. Researchers removed just one percent of carbon 13 to make it an "isotopically pure" carbon — about 99.99 percent carbon 12.

The specially engineered graphene was heated with a laser beam to test its heat transfer abilities at the University of Texas at Austin. A full study is detailed in the Jan. 9 online edition of the journal Nature Materials.

"This demonstration brings graphene a step closer to being used as a conductor for managing heat in a variety of devices," said Rodney Ruoff, a physical chemist at the University of Texas at Austin. "The potential of this material, and its promise for the electronic industry, is very exciting."

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