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Fast vibrations can cause tiny amounts of liquid to boil

Posted September 26, 2018

Our world is constantly moving. Even things that appear to be standing still are actually in motion. Skyscrapers are swaying in the wind, roads are shifting due to temperature changes and earth itself is moving under your feet. Obviously, all that motion is fairly small, but, as scientists from the University of Edinburgh found, ultra-fast vibrations can be used to heat tiny amounts of liquid. This could have a range of engineering applications.

Scientists think that this discovery could eventually improve even home appliances, such as dryers. Image credit: Franklin Heijnen via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Obviously, earth is not producing those ultra-fast vibrations, but some machines do. For example, engines, tools, industrial equipment and all kinds of machinery. Ultra-fast vibrations can also be produced using some specialized devices, which, scientists say, could be useful to prevent the build-up of ice on aeroplanes and wind turbines. Furthermore, scientists think that this technology could be used in new home appliances , such as dryers that work more efficiently than current ones. Finally, ultra-fast vibrations could be employed to cool smartphones and laptops.

All that is thanks to new discovery that tiny quantities of liquid can be brought to a boil if they are shaken at extreme speeds. Interestingly, scientists found this not by performing actual experiments with water and high-speed vibration motors, but by conducting computer simulations. Of course, we are talking about extremely tiny amounts of liquid – a layer of it would be one thousand times thinner than a human hair. And vibrations would have to be ultra-fast – at least a million times faster than the flapping of a hummingbird’s wings. But why does it work? Why does the liquid begin to boil just from being vibrated?

Well, it is actually not that complicated. Vibrations are causing liquid molecules to move rapidly in relation to one another. They start colliding, there is friction and a lot of energy. That energy gets transformed into heat, which inevitably causes the liquid to boil. However, it is only possible to use vibrations to boil extremely small quantities of liquid. In bigger amounts of liquid vibrations can only produce some tiny waves and very little heat – not enough to cause the liquid to boil and evaporate. Dr Rohit Pillai, one of the authors of the study, said: “Exploiting this new science of vibrations at the smallest scales could literally shake things up in our everyday lives. The advent of nanotechnology means that this discovery can underpin novel engineering devices of the future”.

This is not entirely new. Microwave ovens work by moving water molecules at a rapid speed, causing them to collide and produce heat. Now we just have to wait and see in what practical applications this discovery could be integrated.


Source: University of Edinburgh

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