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Scientists create world's smallest steam engine

The Local · 13 Dec 2011, 10:26

Published: 13 Dec 2011 10:26 GMT+01:00

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Although the engine sputters incessantly and isn’t developed enough to be used in the real world, the discovery could make it easier to produce ultra-efficient micro-engines in the future, according to researchers at the University of Stuttgart and the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems.

“The machine really does perform work,” said researcher Clemens Bechinger in a statement. “This was not necessarily to be expected, because the machine is so small that its motion is hindered by microscopic processes which are of no consequence in the macroworld.”

To create the engine, the team had to use novel techniques since its not possible to precisely replicate a steam engine on the micro level.

They created a plastic bead that is able to float its water and then used a focused laser beam in the bead to control its motion. They used another laser to heat the water suddenly, mimicking the coal fire of a typical steam engine.

By turning the lasers on and off rapidly, they were able to get the bead to expand and contract rapidly to act as a piston.

The bead is about 10,000 times larger than an atom, so scientists are able to observe its motion with microscopes.

The scientists said they didn’t think the machine would work and were amazed by their invention.

Story continues below…

“Our experiments provide us with an initial insight into the energy balance of a heat engine operating in microscopic dimensions. Although our machine does not provide any useful work as yet, there are no thermodynamic obstacles, in principle, which prohibit this in small dimensions,” Bechinger said.

The Local/mdm

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

11:09 December 13, 2011 by freechoice
this should be highly welcomed if it can cut our ever growing energy bills.
14:13 December 13, 2011 by delvek
I am the furthest thing from a greenie or environmentalist ... but ... if they can do this how can they not make cars that run on things other then oil or at least make cars that can get 200mpg and not be a turd.
15:37 December 13, 2011 by catjones
One small problem; it takes more energy to run than it puts out.
15:49 December 13, 2011 by reallybigdog

Although your comment was likely thought to be a major brainstorm on your part the rest of us figured that out at the mention of the lasers being turned on and off.
16:20 December 13, 2011 by vjtheking
Cool... Now I can power my next Lego Train with this engine!
16:33 December 13, 2011 by storymann
ok, but this eludes me as a milestone in technologic development, using laser to heat the water and turning it off and on they could control the bead and another laser to heat the water to form steam, and because the bead moved up and down it has produced work.

Work : Physical or mental effort or activity directed toward the production or accomplishment of something. The tiny bead using 2 lasers in a confined micro space moving up and down qualifies as work. yep
20:09 December 13, 2011 by Celeon
@ catjones

Its brilliant how you recognize the obvious. Guess what, ALL engines produce less energy than you put in to get them going.
20:58 December 13, 2011 by drdoom
People cool down,

Thermodynamics do not allow creating energy out of thin air. It is scientific demonstration and the info given in this article is not sufficient enough to think about avoiding arab's oil :-D
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