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Electronic blood: a flow battery

IBM Research's Bruno Michel

IBM's Aquasar liquid-cooled cluster

IBM: Think

IBM water-cooled chip stack

Aquasar from the front

IBM liquid-cooled chip

Nanotechnology Nobel

IBM's Matthias Kaiserswerth

IBM Research in Zurich

IBM hopes -- eventually -- to use liquids both to cool and power computers, part of its brain-inspired computing program. How do things stand today? IBM can deliver up to 1 watt of power per square centimeter with technology called a flow battery, which transports electrical power stored chemically. Here, vanadium electrolytes power a microfluidics chip in a lab demonstration.

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Bruno Michel, a researcher in advanced thermal packaging for IBM Research, describes Aquasar, an IBM Research prototype high-performance computing machine that uses unusually high-temperature liquid cooling.

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The Aquasar prototype computing system uses water cooling that is unusually hot -- 60 to 63 degrees Celsius. That's hot enough that the water can be reused to heat buildings or to run an absorption chiller that can cool buildings. One goal of the system is to lower the carbon footprint of computing.

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IBM's famous exhortation to employees, "think," gets special prominence at its research lab in Zurich.

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IBM Research is working on "interlayer cooling," in which water is pumped through tiny tubes penetrating piggybacked chips using high-speed communication technology called through-silicon vias. IBM's approach is designed to deal with overheating problems that otherwise severely limit chip stacking. The protruding pipe fittings are for connecting water-cooling tubes.

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IBM's Aquasar hot-water cooled high-performance computing cluster as viewed from the front. Processing nodes are blade servers that slide into the chassis.

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Liquid cooling has traditionally meant water traveling near chips, the hottest part of computers, but IBM Research has begun making chips with cooling conduits built directly inside.

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Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, two researchers at IBM's research lab in Zurich, Switzerland, received the Nobel prize for developing the scanning tunneling microscope. That instrument is now a fixture for nanotechnology research. This is a replica of the medal.

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Matthias Kaiserswerth, director of IBM Research in Zurich, is working toward the era of "cognitive computing," in which machines get attributes of human thinking such as perception, learning, and judgment.

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IBM Research investigates supercomputing, nanotechnology, medicine, and more at its Zurich labs.

Caption by / Photo by Stephen Shankland/CNET
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