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How Tin Whiskers Screw Up Everything From Servers to Smartphones

By Network World

December 6, 2012

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New research on tin whiskers sheds some light on why they have interfered with everything from satellites to watches to data center systems. Tin whiskers are the tiny metal filaments that grow inside electronic devices, and since the 1940s they have been known to contribute to problems. The short circuit-causing wisps of metal that grow out of the tin used to solder and coat electronic circuits are the result of stress (or 'high-strain gradient') in the devices, says University of South Carolina (USC) doctoral student Yong Sun.

The discovery was made using digital image correlation, and Sun believes tin whiskers will likely become more prevalent as devices shrink in size. The research could push device makers to consider new manufacturing processes that deliver less stress-infused products.

"This [research] is a very big deal," says USC professor Xiaodong Li. "As we move toward nanoscale devices, this is a problem that needs to be solved."

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