Abstract In the present work, the problem of optimizing the shape and the spacing of the fins of a thermal dissipator cooled by a fluid in laminar flow is studied. For a particular finned conduit, the velocity and temperature distributions on the transversal section are determined with the help of a finite element model and a global heat transfer coefficient is calculated. A polynomial lateral profile is proposed for the fins and the geometry is optimized in order to make the heat transfer coefficient as high as possible with the smallest dimensions or the lowest hydraulic resistance to the flow. The optimum fin profile and spacing, obtained by means of a genetic algorithm, are finally shown for different situations. Increases of 45% are obtained in the heat transfer coefficient referring to the maximum values which can be obtained with rectangular fin profiles.