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Scientists Cook Up New Kind of Matter: Self-Propelling Liquid

Mar 27, 2017 09:28 AM EDT

Researchers from the Brandeis University have taken a significant leap in the creation of a new state of matter: a liquid that's able to move on its own without the aid of human action or even gravity.

According to an official report from Brandeis, the team from the university's Materials Research Science and Engineering Center reached a breakthrough in the laboratory when they were able to reproduce a complex series of processes that allows cells to change shape and adapt to the environment. The building blocks of the cell's structure are known as microtubules, which are capable of self-transformation.

For their experiment, the scientists extracted microtubules from a cow's brain and put it in a watery solution, adding kinesine and adenosine triphospohate (ATP), two other cellular molecules. The kinesin molecule linked the microtubules, which aligned with each other.

Meanwhile, the ATP operated as a fuel source so the kinesin was able to self-propel. The microtubules split apart as the molecule's top and bottom went in opposite directions. Then new kinesin linked two different microtubules together, starting the cycle over and over again.

This process caused swirling patterns to appear in the solutions, and the team succeeded in getting the swirls to move in the same direction. It's a simplified version of the same action that occurs in cells.

"Oddly, this behavior was independent of scale; as long as the aspect ratio of the geometry was chosen appropriately, flows were observed for a wide range of system dimensions," the researchers noted in their study.

The potential of a self-propelling liquid has a number of real world applications. One major innovation that could benefit from this recent breakthrough is getting oil to flow through a pipeline with the need for pumping.

The findings of the team were published in the journal Science.

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