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The Future of IT

By Jesse Campbell (

Article Published: May. 9, 2013 | Modified: May. 9, 2013
The Future of IT

Appalachian’s Brandon Rash describes the process his student group used in determining whether or not mineral oil could be used to cool computer hardware during an on-campus presentation to the CIS department last week.

Photo by Jesse Campbell

As computer technology and information systems have evolved, a common problem among IT departments has persisted: how to cheaply cool computer hardware without incurring damages.

The Computer Information Systems department at Appalachian State University is closer to solving that age-old question and might soon find itself on the forefront of an emerging industry.

Last week, the university displayed the results of a faculty- and student-led project that scientifically documented the process of cooling motherboards and other computer parts by submersing the units in motor, mineral and vegetable oils.

The students used three fish tanks, containing the different oils, at the front of the classroom to give visualization to the results.

“Integrated circuits, like a hard drive and CPU, all generate heat – some more than others,” said project member senior Benjamin Wiley, an ASU senior.

Wiley said computer hardware will heat up and reach the temperature of the substance around it, which is usually the air surrounding, and this is known as thermal equilibrium.

But what if these devices were allowed to cool down in oil instead of air? Also, what if IT departments could use something besides just electric fans to cool down highly worked motherboards?

“The big part of expense in IT is dealing with the heat these systems generate,” lecturer Neal Parker said. “A lot of energy is consumed here. It’s not consuming a tremendous amount of energy, but cooling it down is. People have been cooling with oil for a while, but can you use it to save money in IT?”

The ASU team said the study results were encouraging.

As terms of new technology, the team said liquid submersion of computers has only been recently used in the industry.

According to some studies, liquid submersion can cut cooling costs by 95 percent, the group of students reported.

After much research, the group said it narrowed its list of suitable oils to three and factored in the costs and viscosity (the oil’s resistance to flow) in determining which substance would be best in cooling hardware.

Vegetable oil is the thickest and cheapest at only $7 a gallon, the students said.

The team then developed a hypothesis. They believed that the more oil added to a system would slow the rate of temperature increase in the hardware.

Although a fan would be helpful in the distribution of heat, the group theorized it would not be entirely necessary, Wiley said. They also thought the less viscous mineral oil would be a better heat distributor.

What they found was that the less viscous mineral was, in fact, the better distributor of heat, and, as more oil is added to the system, the longer it will take to heat up.

“What was great is that we did a lot of initial groundwork,” senior Samuel Powers said. “Future groups can leap frog what we’ve already done and have a continuous project for next year.”

The project’s results could have a rippling effect in future studies.

“I really think this was an awesome experiment,” Watson said. “This is the forefront of something huge. Going forward, (we believe) more companies will use these concepts because of the money they can save.”

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