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July 21st, 2004

Teaching Nanotech to Swim

When objects have vanishingly small masses, the effects of viscosity become far more important than the effects of inertia. The upshot is that in the nanoworld, there is no such thing as glide. Translated to the nanoscale, the scissors kick that sends a skin diver coasting over a coral reef would produce only a surge forward then back to the same spot. Moving even a micrometer-sized object through water becomes a lot like trying to breaststroke through honey. Move down the scale to the nanometer realm, and the problem is even worse.

Ali Najafi and Ramin Golestanian of the Institute for Advances Studies in Basic Sciences in Zanjan, Iran, have proposed a solution that requires only the shortening and lengthening of two rigid rods.


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