Problem: Complex microprocessors—like those at the heart of autonomous driving and artificial intelligence—can overheat and shut down. And when it happens, it’s usually the fault of an internal component on the scale of nanometers. But for decades, nobody who designed chips could figure out a way to measure temperatures down to the scale of such minuscule parts.
Solution: Fabian Menges, a researcher at IBM Research in Zurich, Switzerland, has invented a scanning probe method that measures changes to thermal resistance and variations in the rate at which heat flows through a surface. From this he can determine the temperature of structures smaller than 10 nanometers. This will let chipmakers come up with designs that are better at dissipating heat.