Date of Award

Summer 8-2017

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical Engineering


Alan McGaughey

Second Advisor

Jonathan Malen


The operating temperature of energy conversion and electronic devices affects their efficiency and efficacy. In many devices, however, the reference values of the thermal properties of the materials used are no longer applicable due to processing techniques performed. This leads to challenges in thermal management and thermal engineering that demand accurate predictive tools and high fidelity measurements. The thermal conductivity of strained, nanostructured, and ultra-thin dielectrics are predicted computationally using solutions to the Boltzmann transport equation. Experimental measurements of thermal diffusivity are performed using transient grating spectroscopy. The thermal conductivities of argon, modeled using the Lennard-Jones potential, and silicon, modeled using density functional theory, are predicted under compressive and tensile strain from lattice dynamics calculations. The thermal conductivity of silicon is found to be invariant with compression, a result that is in disagreement with previous computational efforts. This difference is attributed to the more accurate force constants calculated from density functional theory. The invariance is found to be a result of competing effects of increased phonon group velocities and decreased phonon lifetimes, demonstrating how the anharmonic contribution of the atomic potential can scale differently than the harmonic contribution. Using three Monte Carlo techniques, the phonon-boundary scattering and the subsequent thermal conductivity reduction are predicted for nanoporous silicon thin films. The Monte Carlo techniques used are free path sampling, isotropic ray-tracing, and a new technique, modal ray-tracing. The thermal conductivity predictions from all three techniques are observed to be comparable to previous experimental measurements on nanoporous silicon films. The phonon mean free paths predicted from isotropic ray-tracing, however, are unphysical as compared to those predicted by free path sampling. Removing the isotropic assumption, leading to the formulation of modal ray-tracing, corrects the mean free path distribution. The effect of phonon line-of-sight is investigated in nanoporous silicon films using free path sampling. When the line-of-sight is cut off there is a distinct change in thermal conductivity versus porosity. By analyzing the free paths of an obstructed phonon mode, it is concluded that the trend change is due to a hard upper limit on the free paths that can exist due to the nanopore geometry in the material. The transient grating technique is an optical contact-less laser based experiment for measuring the in-plane thermal diffusivity of thin films and membranes. The theory of operation and physical setup of a transient grating experiment is detailed. The procedure for extracting the thermal diffusivity from the raw experimental signal is improved upon by removing arbitrary user choice in the fitting parameters used and constructing a parameterless error minimizing procedure. The thermal conductivity of ultra-thin argon films modeled with the Lennard-Jones potential is calculated from both the Monte Carlo free path sampling technique and from explicit reduced dimensionality lattice dynamics calculations. In these ultra-thin films, the phonon properties are altered in more than a perturbative manner, referred to as the confinement regime. The free path sampling technique, which is a perturbative method, is compared to a reduced dimensionality lattice dynamics calculation where the entire film thickness is taken as the unit cell. Divergence in thermal conductivity magnitude and trend is found at few unit cell thick argon films. Although the phonon group velocities and lifetimes are affected, it is found that alterations to the phonon density of states are the primary cause of the deviation in thermal conductivity in the confinement regime.