Thermal Management Irresistible to Ashish Sinha

By Carol Milano

As a teenager, Ashish Sinha read about ‘heat’ in his physics textbook. Looking for a chapter on ‘cold,’ he couldn’t find one. Eventually, “I figured out that ‘cold’ was the absence of ‘heat,’” he recalls. That was his first encounter with thermal sciences. His professional goal emerged at the Indian institute of Technology: he wrote his thesis on boiling heat transfer, while earning a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering.

Ashish realized he’d like to keep studying heat transfer and thermal sciences, in a doctoral program. At Georgia Tech, he specialized in thermal management of electronics, which deals with the art of cooling electronic components. “I knew society would always need a person with this skill. Something is always getting hot and needs to be cooled,” he observes.

Thermal management, a fast-growing area, brings constant challenges. “The problem is much more pronounced in electronic cooling. People do more and more on handheld devices, which don’t have enough space for cooling technology,” Ashish explains. “Everything’s getting smaller. Chips are more powerful. That leaves fewer ways to drive the heat out.”

While pursuing his Thermal Management PhD, Ashish taught undergraduate AutoCAD and engineering drawing classes for three semesters, becoming mentor and instructor to 240 students. As a graduate research assistant, he worked on adapting an adsorption chiller for electronic cooling in blistering environments. He was a research engineer there on a project aimed at developing a novel cooling device (or “heat sink”) for high wattage processors. “We tried to improve on the standard heat transfer method, by bringing liquid cooling into the spaces of a laptop or server. I attempted to replace the heat pipe with water, by creating a closed-loop flow circuit to transport heat form processors to radiator fins -- think of a car radiator miniaturized to cool a computer chip.”

Ashish and his collaborators, Georgia Tech Professor Yogendra Joshi and Ven Holalkere, a former Thermal Manager at Intel, decided to commercialize the modular liquid cooling technology. After securing start-up funding, they launched Cool Clouds in 2010. Initially, Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center provided office space.

“Being involved with a company from scratch, you have a 360-degree view: how it begins, how to survive on a shoestring budget,” says Ashish, who is responsible for research and development. “From the start, you’re involved with customers, and going to the post office, and taking out the trash. Your attachment to the company is stronger at a small business. As Principal Scientist, I see the direct impact of my work: how a customer reacts when they see the product, a closed-loop cooling device. You wouldn’t have that working at a large company. At a small start-up, everything you do has to be on the money! We each have to be everything: tech guy, mail guy, sales guy.”

Launching a business is unpredictable, Ashish admits. “You must not fear the unknown! You’re experimenting with something you couldn’t do otherwise. For me, being able to explore more has made me stronger and more-self-confident. I’m not afraid of facing the unknown anymore.”

Cool Clouds is now headquartered in San Jose, with a staff of five. Although running a small company is demanding and typically requires long hours, Ashish is glad he has time to spend with his wife, and playing with his year-old son.

He joined ASME’s Atlanta section in 2006, serving as chair from 2012 to 2013. “I had the idea of taking the chapter to a new nuclear plant, at Vogtle, Georgia. It turned out to be exciting for everyone! On a weekday, over 30 people came,” he reports. “I got the feeling that I could bring a new idea to fruition. Being involved with ASME, or other volunteer organizations, is an opportunity to try new things, without fear of failure.” As an ECLIPSE intern (2014-15) with the Board of Governors, he helped arrange ASME training materials into “user-friendly format that benefits future volunteers, so they can become strong contributors as ASME members.”

At Cool Clouds, he’s learned, both employers and clients look for well-rounded individuals. To get ahead, “You need tech skills, and you also have to make good PowerPoint slides,” Ashish reflects. “You’re trying to get your ideas across and show that your product is better. Questions always come up. It’s a disadvantage if you don’t communicate and interact well.”

For younger engineers, “Being able to take initiative is great! Don’t just follow tradition; try to find new ways to do things. Always question,” Ashish recommends. “Being inquisitive is a big plus -- that’s what drives innovation. And innovation is what drives today’s economy.”