Research

Pumping Through Liquid Tubes

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As the tubes carrying a liquid get smaller, it becomes harder and harder to keep fluids flowing. Friction between the fluid and the wall brings flow there to a standstill and means that moving fluid through tiny tubes requires enormous forces. To alleviate this issue, a new study uses a clever arrangement of magnets to create a tube with ferrofluid walls instead of solid ones.

The researchers call their liquid-walled pipes “antitubes” and show off just how useful they can be. Because the ferrofluid allows liquid to slip by it, flow through the antitubes is nearly frictionless. As seen in the last animation, honey flows about as easily through the antitube as it does with no tube in place at all!

The antitubes are also easy to modify into valves and pumps just by applying (and/or moving) a magnet (Images 1 and 2). Combined with their low friction, these features make antitubes perfect for applications like pumping blood outside the human body without damaging delicate cells. You can see a demonstration of that in the video above. (Video, image, and research credit: P. Dunne et al.; via Physics World; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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