The team led by professors Richard McLaughlin and Roberto Camassa the Carolina Center for Interdisciplinary Applied Mathematics at the College of Arts & Sciences, together with their graduate student UNC-Chapel Hill, Robert Hunt and Dan Harris of the School of Engineering at Brown University, has demonstrated that the suspended particles in fluids of different density, as the sea water, with different layers of salinity, show two behaviors previously unknown. First of all, the particles self-assembled without the electrostatic attraction, or magnetic, or, in the case of microorganisms, without means for propulsion such as flagella or cilia. In the second place, we gather without the need of adhesive or other bonding forces. The bigger the cluster, the stronger the force of attraction.
The discovery of this phenomenon was accidental, a couple of years ago, during a demonstration for some of the guests in a visit to the Laboratory of fluids, applied mathematics and marine sciences Camassa and McLaughlin run. The two researchers wanted to hit the attention of your visitors by showing the way in which the ball discharged into a tank of salt water, bouncing toward the bottom, as long as the fluid is uniformly stratified by density. But the graduate student responsible for the experiment he made an error in setting the density of the fluid lower. The ball shot back and then there they were, immersed but not sinking to the bottom. "And then I took that, that was a good decision," said McLaughlin, "to clean up the mess". Go home, said the graduate student.
We will deal with later. The morning after, the balls were still suspended, but had begun to clump together - for autoassemblare for no apparent reason. The researchers eventually discovered the reason, even if it took more than two years of experimental studies of reference and a lot of mathematics.
"it's almost as if we had discovered a new effective force," he said Camassa. The discovery of this mechanism of the first principle previously unknown, opens doors to understanding of how matter organizes itself in the environment. In bodies of water is highly stratified, such as estuaries and oceans deep, the ability to understand mathematically the phenomenon may allow scientists to model and predict the location of hotspots of biological, including land supply for fishes of commercial or endangered species. Take advantage of the power of the phenomenon could also lead to the best ways to locate the micro-plastic ocean, or even the oil from oil spills in deep water. Or, in a version of the industrial size of the experiment Fluids Lab, the mechanism could be used to sort materials of different density, for example, different colors of glass recyclable crushed.
"We have been working for years with systems layered, generally looking at how things flow through them," said McLaughlin. "This is one of the things most exciting that I have met in my career."
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