Scientists discover way to levitate tiny objects
CHICAGO - U.S. scientists have found a way to levitate the very smallest objects using the strange forces of quantum mechanics, and said on Wednesday they might use it to help make tiny nanotechnology machines.
They said they had detected and measured a force that comes into play at the molecular level using certain combinations of molecules that repel one another.
The repulsion can be used to hold molecules aloft, in essence levitating them, creating virtually friction-free parts for tiny devices, the researchers said.
Quantum mechanical forces
The discovery arose from Capasso's prior work as vice president of physical research at Bell Labs, the research arm of telecoms gear marker Lucent Technologies, now Alcatel-Lucent.
"I started to think how can I use these exotic quantum mechanical forces for technology," he said in a telephone interview.
Bell had been working on new devices known as Micro Electromechanical Systems or MEMS, the technology used in air bag sensors to measure deceleration of cars. "We started to play with nanomechanics or micromechanics," Capasso said.
He knew that as devices became smaller and smaller, they would fall prey to what is known as the Casimir force, an attractive force that comes into play when two very tiny metallic surfaces make very close contact.
In very small objects, this force can cause moving parts to stick together, an effect known as stiction.