Follow for more talkers

Scientists think this machine could make phones and the internet more powerful

The machine is a 3D-printed plastic rectangle with an interior that is carved with intersecting channels.

Avatar photo


Hand holding smartphone with hand drawn media icons and symbols concept
(ESB Professional via Shutterstock)

By Gwyn Wright via SWNS

A simple machine that could make mobile phones and the internet more powerful has been developed by scientists.

Researchers hope the creation will enable signal antennae to work at tens of gigahertz, which they would need for 5G to work.

To make the antennae, very fine filaments which are around one micrometer wide are needed but existing industrial fabrication techniques don’t work on fibers that are that small.

The machine, which Harvard University researchers developed, works by using the surface tension of water to grab and manipulate tiny objects, which could be used to manufacture microscopic materials.

The team says the machine can be made easily using a tank of water and a 3D printer, like the ones found at many public libraries.

The machine is a 3D-printed plastic rectangle with an interior that is carved with intersecting channels.

(Manoharan Lab/Harvard SEAS via SWNS)

Each channel has wide and narrow sections, like a river that widens in some parts and narrows in others, and the channel walls attract water.

When the team submerged the device in water and placed a millimeter-sized plastic float in the channel, the surface tension of the water caused the wall to repel the float.

If the float was in a narrow section of the channel, it moved to a wide section, where it could float as far away from the walls as possible.

Once it was in a wide section of the channel, the float would be trapped in the center and held in place by the repulsive forces between the walls and float.

As the device is lifted out of the water, the repelling forces change as the shape of the channel changes.

If the float was in a wide channel to begin with, it may find itself in a narrow channel as the water level falls, and need to move to the left or right to find a wider spot.

The study’s first author Maya Faaborg said: “The eureka moment came when we found we could move the objects by changing the cross-section of our trapping channels.”

The team then attached microscopic fibers to the floats.

As the water level changed and the floats moved to the left or right within the channels, the fibers twisted around each other.

Faaborg added: “It was a shout-out-loud-in-joy moment when — on our first try — we crossed two fibers using only a piece of plastic, a water tank, and a stage that moves up and down.”

The researchers then added a third float with a fiber and designed a series of channels to move the floats in a braiding pattern.

They managed to braid micrometer-scale fibers of the synthetic material Kevlar.

The braid was just like a traditional hair braid but each fiber was 10 times smaller than a single human hair.

Close up of hand holding cellphone with creative glowing 5G internet hologramn on blurry night city background. Technology and speed concept. Multiexposure
(Golden Dayz via Shutterstock)

They then showed that the floats themselves could be microscopic by making machines that could trap and move colloidal particles 10 micrometers in size — even though the machines were a thousand times bigger.

Study co-author Ahmed Sherif, a Ph.D. student, said: “We weren’t sure it would work, but our calculations showed that it was possible.

“So we tried it, and it worked.

“The amazing thing about surface tension is that it produces forces that are gentle enough to grab tiny objects, even with a machine big enough to fit in your hand.”

The team now wants to design gadgets that can manipulate many fibers at the same time, with the aim of making high-frequency conductors.

They also plan to design other machines that can be used in manufacturing, such as building materials for optical devices from microspheres.

The findings were published in the journal Nature.

Stories and infographics by ‘Talker Research’ are available to download & ready to use. Stories and videos by ‘Talker News’ are managed by SWNS. To license content for editorial or commercial use and to see the full scope of SWNS content, please email [email protected] or submit an inquiry via our contact form.

Top Talkers