Removing Friction in Potential Nanomachines
June 14, 2015 Leave a comment
Nanomachines are tiny mechanisms built using components the size of single molecules. They’re still largely theoretical at this point, but a recent study by researchers at MIT may bring us one step closer to realizing such devices.
Part of the problem with nanomachines is friction. Any time two surfaces come into contact, there’s friction. Everyone is used to friction in their day to day lives, it helps us hold on to things, for example, but that force can be extremely strong at the atomic level. So strong in fact that nanomachines would likely experience wear and tear at a much higher rate than normal sized machines performing similar tasks.
However, at the atomic level, friction can also disappear, a state known as superlubricity. In superlubricity, surfaces glide along each other without friction, and that state would be idea for getting as much work out of nanomachines as possible.
Researchers at MIT recently figured out how to simulate friction at the smallest scale and, while doing so, figured out how to create some level of superlubricity within the lab. By working with ion crystals and optical lattices, they were able to create superlubricity at the atomic level.
In the future, if this technology can be applied to such a thing as nanomachines, this research will be a good start on making that technology as efficient as possible. Even before then, learning more about superlubricity tells us more about the universe around us, and deepens our understanding of physics. It might also be helpful in developing new structures or materials that create less friction at a larger scale, though it’s unlikely that frication can be eliminated for any surfaces we can actual see with the naked eye. This research could lead to better artificial joints, or more efficient tires. The possibilities are endless.