London, Feb 19 : A team of Japanese researchers has found a way to convert chemical energy into movement by surfing some pieces of papers on chemical waves, which might eventually help to transport small devices or carefully control the delivery of drugs within the body.
According to a report in New Scientist, a team from Kyoto, Kinki, and Nagoya Bunri Universities, all in Japan, carried out this experiment, that produces pulsing wave patterns as a mixture of chemicals oscillates between two different states.
The research team has shown that small pieces of paper floating in the mixture can be carried along by these chemical waves.
The team could control when and where the cargo was dumped, by initiating a second set of chemical waves. When a second wave collides with one carrying cargo, the two cancel out, stopping the cargo in its tracks.
The paper can be carried by the wave because oxidised areas have higher surface tension than reduced regions. That tension draws the paper into the oxidised area and keeps it there.
"The technique could provide new ways to move and power small machines," said Kenichi Yoshikaw at Kyoto University, who led the research.
According to Yoshikaw, the waves can directly transform chemical energy into movement, like as living systems do, whereas artificial machines such as petrol engines usually produce heat as an intermediate step between chemicals and movement.
The researchers are now trying to transport different cargoes using the waves and they also plan to put them inside microfluidic chips that contain tiny channels used to control chemical reactions.
"The technique may also have medical uses," Yoshikaw told New Scientist.
For example, using the reaction inside a medical implant could push out a drug package at fixed intervals without the need for electric power.
"This is a really interesting demonstration, with lots of implications," said Steve Scott of Leeds University, UK, a chemist interested in oscillating reactions.