Researchers have developed a new liquid that can flow freely without being manipulated.
Researchers from Brandeis University have just published a research paper to Science in which they detail their findings in creating a ‘self-propelling’ liquid. The new liquid can move without human or mechanical forces pushing it along. If development continues, it could see many potential applications in engineering. One such application is in moving oil through pipelines without the need for a pump. The research, which comes from Brandeis’ Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC), is part of an effort by the US National Science Foundation to develop revolutionary new materials with biological origins.
The new liquid does indeed have biological origins. It is the result of creating a lab-environment which mimics the complex processes which allow cells to shift and deform, changing shape to adapt to their environment. Cells do this by making use of micro-tubes, a building block which is capable of self-transformation. Micro-tubes can grow, shrink, bend or stretch in order to move the cell around. The researchers at Brandeis extracted micro-tubes from a cow’s brain, placing them in a watery solution. They then added kinesin and adenosine triphosphate (ATP), two molecules which are also found in cells.
During the experiment, the micro-tubes aligned by themselves, and were then held together by the kinesin molecules, which tied the tubes together like rungs on a ladder (no doubt you’ve seen a similar shape in the double helix of the DNA molecule). The ATP then acted as a fuel source; once it was added, the kinesin molecules began moving. At the top of the structure, they moved one way, and on the bottom, they moved the other. This stretched out the chain until it broke, but the tear was soon filled by new kinesin molecules, and the process repeated. In a sense, the reaction was stretching out the liquid.
The liquid formed swirls of different patterns, but eventually, the researchers were even able to manipulate them in such a way that they all moved in the same direction, creating a “coherent flow”. This enabled the liquid to actually move, pushing it along the direction of flow without mechanical manipulation.