Magazine article Science News

Nanotechnologists Get a Squirt Gun, Almost

Magazine article Science News

Nanotechnologists Get a Squirt Gun, Almost

Article excerpt

It's anything but a Super Soaker.

According to computer simulations by physicists at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, a fantastically tiny squirt gun that can spit liquids a few hundred nanometers ought to work--if it can be built.

Michael F. Moseler and Uzi Landman developed the model of the miniature device to investigate a possible new technology and to confront a challenge facing scientists at the forefront of the much-anticipated nanotechnology revolution (SN: 3/1/97, p. S14). In the nanoworld, different forces prevail, compared with our everyday, macroscopic domain. Not only do intuitions of scientists and engineers fail at the nanometer scale, so do their equations.

Computer models of molecular behavior offer a research alternative. On computers, researchers depict thousands to millions of individual molecules programmed to interact according to physics rules. By putting those tiny players through their paces in these so-called molecular-dynamics simulations, scientists can predict nanometer-scale phenomena that are often counterintuitive.

Researchers welcome the simulations, but they also need equations, which are simpler and apply more generally, to describe submicroscopic happenings.

Moseler and Landman have done more than just simulate the movements of molecules in nanojets--liquids forced to spurt through nozzles with orifices smaller than viruses. They also created a so-called continuum description of the jets, which ignores the molecular details. They derived this description by adding the effects of random, thermal fluctuations to existing hydrodynamic equations. This modification of equations that were developed to describe macroscopic flows yielded results in line with the molecular simulations. The theorists report their findings in the Aug. 18 SCIENCE.

The newfound agreement of the two approaches means "that the powerful mathematical tools developed to solve the hydrodynamic equations can be put to use in the nanoworld," comments Jens Eggers of the University of Essen, Germany. …

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