Until now scientists had managed to float invisible aerosols, but never an object that could be grabbed, let alone with a small charge – a sensor – on top. The responsible engineer ensures that the plates can fly up to 80 meters in height.
“When the two boards were lifted,” said Azadi – the engineer who heads the project -, “the four of us were out of breath”. It was the first time that it was possible to move a large object – something that can be grabbed – only with the force of light.
It looks like magic, but it isn’t. The emotion experienced in the Engineering building at the University of Pennsylvania is perfectly understandable when these engineers managed to levitate two plastic trays using only light. The development of the entire process was explained extensively in ScienceAdvance and also covered in WIRED.
It is in this latest publication that Mohsen Azadi, who is preparing for his PhD in mechanical engineering, guarantees that he did not know what he was going to see, but that he expected something. The scientists explain in the article that the light-induced flow – a phenomenon called photophoresis – is not an advance in itself, in fact, the same researchers managed to float, for example, invisible aerosols. But this time they went much further. As the energy from the LEDs heated the protected bottom of the trays, the air particles under the plastic were energized and the plates were propelled.
Flying plates can reach a height of 80 kilometers
What has been achieved is not pure magic, but Azadi is sure that he can go beyond ‘simply’ levitating two trays with light. The engineer says that a plate to be levitated could fly at a height of approximately 80 kilometers, carrying the load of a small sensor. And for what? For example, to study the weather and climate in the mesosphere. At the moment it is a utopian goal, but that two trays fly with the power of light was also.
This is still a very preliminary project, warn scientists. To become a reality, they estimate that they would have to overcome a series of atmospheric challenges. Analyzing the mesosphere is a desire of scientists. Igor Bargatin, professor of mechanical engineering and advisor at Azadi, recalls that they do not have access at this time, “it is possible to send a rocket for a few minutes, but this is very different from taking measurements with airplanes or balloons”.
Bargatin emphasizes that they did not set aside the mesosphere because it does not matter to science, but simply because it seemed unattainable. Perhaps works like Azadi’s will take science and engineering a step further.
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