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No more pumps? Self-propelling liquid could start a Fluid Handling Revolution

Researchers from the Brandeis University claim to have taken the first steps towards creating a liquid which can move on its own without the aid of gravity or human intervention.

In their article published in the journal Science, the scientists explain how this self-propelling liquid could be the first step in creating a whole new class of fluids which can flow without human or mechanical intervention. One possible application of this would be oil flowing through pipes without the need for pumps.

Key to the breakthrough was reproducing in the lab the incredibly complex series of processes that allow cells to change shape and adapt to their environment. Cells are built from hollow cylindrical tubes called microtubules which are capable of growing, shrinking, bending and stretching in response to their environment.

The scientists extracted some of these microtubules from a cow’s brain, and placed them in a watery solution with two other types of molecules found in cells: kinesin and adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Fuelled by the ATP, the kinesin started moving, binding itself to the microtubules. As the microtubules started to connect and then separate, they made swirling patterns in the fluid, patterns which the team soon realised they could control, creating a "coherent flow".

As the university press release explains: “This microtubule-kinesin-ATP reaction is the same one that goes on in cells, except in cells it is much more complicated. Yet the much more simplified model created by the Brandeis scientists achieved a similar effect. Essentially they harnessed the power of nature to create a microscopic machine capable of pumping fluid.”


A video of the coherent flow of the microtubules is available here: