nanotechnology meets the steam age

Posted by jerry on January 24th, 2004 — Posted in History, Journal, Steam, Technology

Using photo-engraving technology used in making computer chips, the latest in nano-machines is… a steam engine! And apparently it works 🙂 Someone once said to me that as science gets smaller you can forget about physics and chemistry – it’s all about mechanical engineering. I guess they were right!

nano steam engine
Image: courtesy Sandia National Laboratories, SUMMiTTM Technologies,

The piston on this engine is only 5 microns across (about five one hundredths of the width of a human hair, or about half the size of a red blood cell). The engine was developed at Sandia Labs in the US by Dr. Jeff Sniegowski and his team.

It seems that a tiny electrical charge is sufficient to boil a minute amount of very pure water, the steam from which pushes a tiny piston and then when it cools enough the piston returns to its starting position. This is not only a steam engine, but using a cross between Savoury and Newcomen’s technology from right at the start of the steam age. You would have thought that nanotechnology would have stuck with tiny electric motors to do mechanical work, so it’s either a case of doing it because they can, or because there might be applications uniquely suited to the application of steam power. Any thoughts on this?



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