Study finds electrical fields can throw a curveball

Monday, May 25, 2020 - 23:10 in Physics & Chemistry

MIT researchers have discovered a phenomenon that could be harnessed to control the movement of tiny particles floating in suspension. This approach, which requires simply applying an external electric field, may ultimately lead to new ways of performing certain industrial or medical processes that require separation of tiny suspended materials. The findings are based on an electrokinetic version of the phenomenon that gives curveballs their curve, known as the Magnus effect. Zachary Sherman PhD ’19, who is now a postdoc at the University of Texas at Austin, and MIT professor of chemical engineering James Swan describe the new phenomenon in a paper published this week in the journal Physical Review Letters. The Magnus effect causes a spinning object to be pulled in a direction perpendicular to its motion, as in the curveball; it is based on aerodynamic forces and operates at macroscopic scales — i.e. on easily visible objects — but not...

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