In nature, trees pull vast amounts of water from their roots up to their leaves hundreds of feet above the ground through capillary action, but now scientists at the University of Rochester have created a simple slab of metal that lifts liquid using the same principlebut does so at a speed that would make nature envious.
The metal, revealed in an upcoming issue of Applied Physics Letters, may prove invaluable in pumping microscopic amounts of liquid around a medical diagnostic chip, cooling a computer's processor, or turning almost any simple metal into an anti-bacterial surface.
"We're able to change the surface structure of almost any piece of metal so that we can control how liquid responds to it," says Chunlei Guo, associate professor of optics at the University of Rochester. "We can even control the direction in which the liquid flows, or whether liquid flows at all."
Guo and his assistant, Anatoliy Vorobyev, use an ultra-fast burst of laser light to change the surface of a metal, forming nanoscale and microscale pits, globules, and strands across the metal's surface. The laser, called a femtosecond laser, produces pulses lasting only a few quadrillionths of a seconda femtosecond is to a second what a second is to about 32 million years. During its brief burst, Guo's laser unleashes as much power as the entire electric grid of North America does, all focused onto a spot the size of a needlepoint, he says.
The wicking process, which on Guo's metal moves at a quick one centimeter per second speed against gravity, is very similar to the phenomenon that pulls spilled milk into a paper towel or creates "tears of wine" in a wineglassmolecular attractions and evaporation combine to move a liquid against gravity, says Guo. Likewise, Guo's nanostructures change the way molecules of a liquid interact with the molecules of the metal, allowing them to become more or less attracted to each other, depending on Guo's settings. At
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University of Rochester