Baby beetles inspire scientists to build mini boat powered by surface tension

January 22nd, 2009 - 3:13 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Jan 22 (ANI): Inspired by the aquatic wriggling of beetle larvae, scientists have built a mini boat that is powered by surface tension.

Designed by a University of Pittsburgh research team, the boat uses a propulsion system that strips away paddles, sails, and motors and harnesses the energy within the waters surface.

The technique destabilizes the surface tension surrounding the object with an electric pulse and causes the craft to move via the surfaces natural pull.

This method of propulsion would be an efficient and low-maintenance mechanism for small robots and boats that monitor water quality in oceans, reservoirs, and other bodies of water, according toSung Kwon Cho, senior researcher and a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science in Pitts Swanson School of Engineering.

These devices are typically propeller-driven.

The Pitt system has no moving parts and the low-energy electrode that emits the pulse could be powered by batteries, radio waves, or solar power, Cho added.

Cho envisioned the system after reading about the way beetle larvae move on water.

Like any floating object, larva resting in the water causes the surface tension to pull equally on both sides.

To move forward, the larva bends its back downward to change the tension direction behind it. The forward tension then pulls the larva through the water.

Cho and his team-Pitt engineering doctoral students Sang Kug Chung and Kyungjoo Ryu-substituted the larvas back bending with an electric pulse.

In their experiments, an electrode attached to a 2-centimeter-long mini-boat emitted a surge that changed the rear surface tension direction and propelled the boat at roughly 4 millimeters per second.

A second electrode attached to the boats front side served as the rudder. (ANI)

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