A frickin’ rotary with a frickin laser

By » Wed, May 2 2012
Wankel Rotary Engine from Mazda RX 7 A frickin rotary with a frickin laser

Step 1: bash head on bathtub. Step 2: ??? Step 3: Profit! (img by J.Lyon)

One of the great discoveries of biology is that the engines of life are molecular motors–tiny machines that create, transport and assemble all living things.

That’s triggered more than a little green-eyed jealousy from  physicists and engineers who would like to have molecular machines at their own beck and call. So there’s no small interest in developing molecular devices that can be easily harnessed to do the job.

Today, Jin Zhang at the University of California Los Angeles and a few pals say they’ve identified a machine that fits the bill.

A couple of year ago, chemists discovered that groups of 13 or 19 boron molecules form into concentric rings that can rotate independently, rather like the piston in a rotary Wankel engine. Because of this, they quickly picked up the moniker “molecular Wankel engines“. The only question was how to power them.

The first–and only– engine I ever rebuilt was a 1200cc Mazda Rotary (Wankel). This story just sort of tickled me in a “let’s explain mind bending physics by referencing an engineering operation that almost no one really understands and is terrified of,” kind of way.

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