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Surface-induced flow: A natural microscopic engine using infrared energy as fuel

Paper published May 8, 2020

Fluid commonly flows in response to an external pressure gradient. However, when a tunnel-containing hydrogel is immersed in water, spontaneous flow occurs through the tunnel without any pressure gradient. We confirmed this flow in a wide range of plant- and animal-derived hydrogels. The flow appears to be driven by axial concentration gradients originating from surface activities of the tunnel wall. Those activities include (i) hydrogel-water interaction and (ii) material exchange across the tunnel boundary. Unlike pressure-driven flow, this surface-induced flow has two distinct features: incident infrared energy substantially increases flow velocity, and narrower tunnels generate faster flow. Thus, surface activities in hydrogel-lined tunnels may confer kinetic energy on the enclosed fluid, with infrared as an energy source.

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