Briefs: Flat-panel fridge

According to researchers at Pennsylvania State University, a new approach to refrigeration and cooling could make for high-efficiency, portable, and quiet refrigerators in the future. The method works by repeatedly applying an electric field to long molecules called polar polymers. Researchers consider that the method will be significantly more efficient that conventional systems. The flat-panel technology takes its cooling power from the ordering and disordering of the polymers, which are distributed in a thin film just a millionth of a metre thick. In an electric field, the molecules spontaneously line up, creating heat. Removing the field causes the polymers to cool down again as a result of the electrocaloric effect. Though the temperature range of the new system is still too high to result in ice-cold beer, it has achieved a cooling of 12°C, showing that polar polymers might achieve suitably low temperatures.