Science 2 min read

Physicists Use Calcium Ion to Develop World's First Micro Engine

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

An international collaboration of scientists, which included theoretical physicists at Trinity College, Dublin have built the world’s smallest engine. It’s a single calcium ion engine, which is almost ten billion times smaller than a car engine.

Professor John Goold‘s QuSys group in Trinity’s School of Physics explained the science behind this tiny motor in their published paper in the journal Physical Review Letters.

It involves influencing the operations of microscopic machines using random fluctuations. When incorporated into other technologies, the engine can potentially recycle waste heat and ultimately improve energy efficiency.

Here’s how the calcium ion engine works.

A Simple Calcium Ion Engine

The engine itself is a single calcium ion. Since the ion is electrically charged, the researchers could easily trap it using electric fields.

So, they took advantage of the calcium ion’s intrinsic spin – or angular momentum – to make its function as a machine. With this spin, the researchers could convert heat absorbed from a laser beam into vibrations or oscillations of the trapped ion.

Like a flywheel, the vibrations capture the useful energy which the engine generates. Then, as quantum mechanics predicts, the energy is stored in discrete units called “quanta.”

Speaking about the project, co-author of the article and researcher at Trinity College, Mark Mitchison said:

“The flywheel allows us to actually measure the power output of an atomic-scale motor, resolving single quanta of energy, for the first time.”

When they started the flywheel from its ground state (lowest energy in quantum physics), the team noted that small calcium ion engine forced the flywheel to run faster.

What’s more, the researchers could monitor the state of the ion all through the experiment, which enabled them to assess the energy deposition process.

The implication of the Experiment

According to an assistant professor of Physics at Trinity College, John Goold, the experiment and theory could usher in a new way of exploring the energetics of technologies based on quantum theory.

Heat management at the nanoscale is one of the fundamental bottlenecks for faster and more efficient computing. Understanding how thermodynamics can be applied in such microscopic settings is of paramount importance for future technologies,” Goold concluded.

Read More: Magnetic Field of a Single Atom Captured in Image for the First Time

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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