We have discovered a material with the lowest thermal conductivity of any fully dense solid (Paper in Physical Review Letters)

Our paper, Duda et al. “Exceptionally low thermal conductivities of films of the fullerene derivative PCBM” – was recently published in Physical Review Letters (Phys. Rev. Lett110, 015902 (2013)).  In this paper, we report on the thermal conductivities the fullerene derivative PCBM ([6,6]-phenyl C61-butyric acid methyl ester).  The fullerenes that arrange in a FCC structure in PCBM weakly interact in the mirocrystal causing this material to transport heat via independent, random Einstein oscillations.  The functional tail reduce the thermal conductivity even further, leading PCBM to exhibit the lowest thermal conductivity of any fully dense solid.


We report on the thermal conductivities of microcrystalline [6,6]-phenyl C61-butyric acid methyl ester (PCBM) thin films from 135 to 387 K as measured by time domain thermoreflectance. Thermal conductivities are independent of temperature above 180 K and less than 0.030±0.003  W m-1 K-1 at room temperature. The longitudinal sound speed is determined via picosecond acoustics and is found to be 30% lower than that in C60/C70 fullerite compacts. Using Einstein’s model of thermal conductivity, we find the Einstein characteristic frequency of microcrystalline PCBM is 2.88×1012  rad s-1. By comparing our data to previous reports on C60/C70 fullerite compacts, we argue that the molecular tails on the fullerene moieties in our PCBM films are responsible for lowering both the apparent sound speeds and characteristic vibrational frequencies below those of fullerene films, thus yielding the exceptionally low observed thermal conductivities.

This work was funded by NSF (CBET Award #1134311) and Sandia National Laboratories through the LDRD Program Office.

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