Heat conduction in dielectric thin films is a critical issue in the design of electronic devices and packages. Depending on the material properties, there exists a range of film thickness where the Fourier law, used for macroscale heat conduction, cannot be applied. This paper shows that in this microscale regime, heat transport by lattice vibrations or phonons can be analyzed as a radiative transfer problem. Based on Boltzmann transport theory, an equation of phonon radiative transfer (EPRT) is developed. In the acoustically thick limit, ξL ≫ 1, or the macroscale regime, where the film thickness is much larger than the phonon-scattering mean free path, the EPRT reduces to the Fourier law. In the acoustically thin limit, ξL ≪ 1, the EPRT yields the blackbody radiation law q = σ (T14 − T24) at temperatures below the Debye temperature, where q is the heat flux and T1 and T2 are temperatures at the film boundaries. For transient heat conduction, the EPRT suggests that a heat pulse is transported as a wave, which becomes attenuated in the film due to phonon scattering. It is also shown that the hyperbolic heat equation can be derived from the EPRT only in the acoustically thick limit. The EPRT is then used to study heat transport in diamond thin films in wide range of acoustical thicknesses spanning the thin and the thick regimes. The heat flux follows the relation q = 4σT3ΔT/(3ξL/4 + 1) as derived in the modified diffusion approximation for photon radiative transfer. The thermal conductivity, as currently predicted by kinetic theory, causes the Fourier law to overpredict the heat flux by 33 percent when ξL ≪ 1, by 133 percent when ξL = 1, and by about 10 percent when ξL increases to 10. To use the Fourier law in both ballistic and diffusive transport regimes, a simple expression for an effective thermal conductivity is developed.

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