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Q & A: Best heat conductors

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Most recent answer: 03/26/2012
Q:
What type of metal conducts heat the fastest and cools down the fastest?
- Kayeng (age 19)
A:
To my knowledge, silver is the best conductor of both heat and electricity among metals with a thermal conduction value of about 430 W/(mK).  Gold and copper both come respectably close to silver, and with Copper being significantly less costly it is often chosen over silver in many applications.

However, that's just among metals.  Diamond is actually a much better heat conductor than silver, around 5 times better for an average diamond.  Scientists have also made super pure diamonds that can easily be up to 5 times better than regular diamonds.  And despite what the jewelry market would like you to think, diamonds are actually very common and quite cheap, at least when you only need them to be the size of dust particles.  So diamond dust is often used in a sort of paste to cool things like computer processors.

And to bring it up to the next level we have superfluids. A particular state of liquid helium that forms under 2.2K has been shown to conduct heat as much as 100 times better than the best diamonds.  Of course it's rather hard to cool anything to this temperature, this and other factors make it somewhat impractical to use as a heat conductor in many applications.

Thanks for the question,
Mike Boehme

(published on 03/26/2012)

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