German physicists have just announced the creation of the world’s smallest heat engine! Research teams from the University of Stuttgart and the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems have joined forces to build a super tiny laser powered engine that is only a few micrometers wide — that’s the size of a human hair! With heat and steam engines traditionally powering cars, boats, trains, and planes, this could be a huge leap towards major, clean transportation improvements.

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A traditional heat engine — or stirling engine to be exact — works via the compression and expansion of gas at different temperatures, usually heated with coal in a boiler room where the energized gas moves a piston that drives the vehicle.

This new, nearly microscopic engine cleans everything up with the use of water, lasers, and plastic. The gaseous energy is replaced with a tiny plastic bead that floats in water and the piston, or in this case, a laser beam. The laser hits the plastic bead at different intensities, moving it slowly and quickly, similar to the expansion and contraction of gas.

The greatest part is that rather than being heated by shoveling mounds of coal into a fire, the engine warms up in a cleaner form by yet another laser that darts into the water. The heated water and the charged plastic bead bounce off each other, turning out energy to power the engine.

The experiment is still in its developmental stages. While looking through a microscope, scientists have been challenged with issues that don’t even exist in the larger world, making the engine sputter from time to time.

But more importantly, the engine does in fact work, creating clean and considerable possibilities for nearly every kind of industrial motor.

Via TG Daily

lead image via wikimedia commons