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Japanese Plastic Motor Powered Directly by Light


The Japanese researchers continue to amaze me each and every time they get something out of their minds. In a time when the world trades solar panels, wind turbines, wave power, nuclear power, what do you think they do? Have you seen the movie “Flubber”?

After the hit with the water powered car, the Japanese researchers invented a plastic motor! The plastic motor is made out of a polymer that contracts when it is exposed to ultraviolet light and expands to visible light.

The plastic motor has been discovered by a research team led by professor Tomiki Ikeda at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. The amazing gadget is powered solely and directly by light, with no intermediate solar panels, green brags or stone-age inventions. Professor Ikeda tinkers with the properties of azobenzene since 2003 (azobenzene = a chemical compound composed of two phenyl rings linked by a N=N double bond – wikipedia).

To test if the light sensitive plastic material could be used as a mechanical power source, prof. Ikeda and his team of researchers coated a polyethylene film with the shape-shifting plastic to create a 0.08-millimeter thick belt, which they looped around a pair of wheels measuring 10 millimeters and 3 millimeters in diameter. Then, by exposing the belt to ultraviolet light near the smaller wheel, and to visible light near the larger wheel, the belt snapped into action and began turning the wheels. The larger wheel recorded a top speed of 1 rpm. Truly amazing!

According to the researchers, the film demonstrated that it is 4 times more elastic strength than human muscle, and its strength remained unchanged even after contracting and expanding every 7 seconds for 30 hours.

“The material is still not very efficient at converting light to energy, but it can be improved,” says Ikeda, who suggests the shape-shifting plastic can be used in larger-scale applications. He hopes to one day see the material used to power plastic vehicles and other fantastic plastic machines.

Let’s not forget that plastic is made out of fossil fuel. There’s no need to be extremistic here, but if we continue to drill out the planet’s resources, fossil fuel would ultimately deplete and plastic could become very expensive and rare. Anyway, it’s a good start for something that we have only seen in science fiction movies by now.


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