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Electrified Nano Wires


Electrified water spins gold into wire
November 7, 2001
By Kimberly Patch, Technology Research News

One approach to building microscopic devices is getting tiny particles of material to simply fall into place.

Researchers from North Carolina State University have found a way to coax microscopic gold particles to assemble into wires that are five times thinner than the diameter of a red blood cell.

The researchers put a pair of electrodes into water suffused with gold particles, pumped an alternating current of electrons through, and found that the free particles aggregated at the ends of the electrodes and eventually grew into a wire connecting them. An alternating current constantly switches the direction electrons are traveling along a wire.

"The particles are brought to a high concentration in the end of the wire because that is where the electric field is strongest, and once they are present there in high concentrations they aggregate," increasing the length of the wire, said Eric Kaler, a professor of chemical engineering at North Carolina States.

The effect had not been predicted. "The whole process is surprising. Theory does not predict this phenomenon, and it has not been seen before," Kaler said.

The nature of the process makes the wires self-repairing. When the researchers increased the current through the microwire to the point where the wire snapped, the electric field at the break attracted new particles to aggregate near the gap and restore the connection, according to Kaler.

By changing the strength and location of the electric fields, the researchers were able to make the wires branch in a way similar to frost forming on a window. The researchers also used the method to coax microparticles of latex to aggregate along with the gold in order to grow gold wires surrounded by an insulator, according to Kaler.

One of the most useful things about the process is it happens in water. "These wires can connect circuits underwater, so that provides a means to connect... aqueous structures like cells to electronic devices," said Kaler. There is still work to be done to achieve this, he added. The challenge is preserving the cells in the electrical environment needed to build the wires. "But there is a good chance it could work," he said.

The wires also have potential as chemical sensors. They can be coated with single-molecule layers of substances that bind to, or physically connect with, certain chemicals, said Kaler. The electrical resistance of the wire changes when the chemicals are bound to this outer layer, causing electrons to travel through it at different speeds that can be correlated to the concentration of the chemical.

In the researchers' experiments, wires one micron in diameter grew at speeds ranging from 50 microns to 500 microns a second. The faster speed is quick enough to bridge a one-centimeter gap between electrodes in less than half a minute. A micron is one thousandth of a millimeter; a red blood cell is five microns in diameter, and an E. coli bacterium is one micron in diameter.

One advantage of the method is it does not require a physical template to map out where the wires are going to grow. Instead, the wire assembly "is driven by an external field," said Kaler. Because the strength and location of the electric field guides both the rate and location of the growth, the method is less tedious and expensive than current template methods, he said. The method could be used commercially at any time, he added.

The researchers are looking to build more organized structures using the method, said Kaler. "Ultimately we would like a toolbox of approaches to build nanostructures" in place, he said.

Kaler's research colleagues were Kevin D. Hermanson, Simon O. Lumsdon, Jacob P. Williams, and Orlin D. Velev from North Carolina State University. They published the research in the November 2, 2001 issue of Science. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Timeline: Now
Funding: Government
TRN Categories: Nanotechnology; Materials Science and Engineering
Story Type: News
Related Elements: Technical paper, "Diclectrophoretic Assembly of Electrically Functional Microwires from Nanoparticle Suspensions," Science, November 2, 2001.

Electrified water can destroy bacteria

Scientists at the University of Strathclyde have discovered that passing a 28000 volt charge through water for a second can give it biocide properties for up to 30 minutes. The water can be used to kill bacteria which cause food poisoning or are antibiotic resistant by using it to rinse food or equipment. The research team at the University of Strathclyde is led by Dr Scott MacGregor of the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering. The team are also examining similar techniques using ultraviolet light to destroy bacterial DNA.

Tom Peterkin 2000. Electrified water to take on deadly food bugsScotland on SundaySeptember, 3 p9


"Kelvin's Thunderstorm"
or Lord Kelvin's water-drop electrostatic generator
Bill Beaty, 1995

It is possible to build a very simple high voltage generator which has no
moving parts and is powered by the energy of falling water. By dribbling
water through some old soup cans, several thousand volts magically
appears. The magic lies in the fact that water (as well as everything
else!) is made of vast quantities of positive and negative electric charge
in perfect cancellation. This device is a gravity-powered charge

The basic idea is this:

|||||| Grounded
|||||| Water
|||||| Dripper
\ /
- || -
- _ -

_ + + + + + + +
-o- + -------------- +
- + | | +
+ | positively | +
_ + | electrified | +
-o- + | object | +
- + | | +
+ | | +
Negatively + -------------- +
electrified _ + + + + + + +
droplets -o-


Water is full of movable charges, half positive, half negative. The
positive object causes separation of charges in the nearby water by
drawing an excess of negative ions into the tip of the water dripper,
while repelling an equal amount of positive ions back into ground. When
the water drop detaches from the tip of the dripper, it carries away
negative charge, leaving the earth slightly positive.

This is interesting in that the positive object never needs to lose its
charge imbalance, yet the negatively electrified water drops will be
created continuously forever, as long as the water keeps flowing. The
electrical energy is all created by the work that gravity does in pulling
the negative droplet away from the grounded dripper and away against the
attraction of the positive object. (Note: the charge polarities can be
reversed: if the "object" is negative, the droplets would be positive.)

Suppose you build two of the drippers in Fig. 1, set them side by side,
then collect the electrified water drops from one side and use them to
electrify the "charged object" on the other. You'll then have a
self-sustaining electrical reaction. The negative droplets touching the
lower can of one assembly will charge the negative upper ring of the
other, and the positive droplets on the other side will touch the lower
can and charge the upper ring of the first side positively. The grounded
drippers are connected to each other and to ground. This all is
illustrated in Fig. 2. In fact, if you build such a device, it will
usually create voltage spontaneously without being pre-charged.

Kelvin's complete generator device looks like this:

_ _____________________ \
\ \ \ \
\ \ \ \
\ \ \ \
|| ||
|| ||
|| ||
|| ||
|| || grounded drippers (need not be metal)
|| ||

== == == == metal disks with holes, or wire rings,
or bottomless metal coffee cans, or
bundt pans (supported by insulating
| | | |
| | | |
| | | | metal cans on insulators (styrofoam?)
| | | |
|____| |____|
| | | |
| | | |
|__| |__|


Wires are used to cross-connect the cans and the wire rings. The two
diagonal wires must not touch together:

_ _____________________ \
\ \ \ \
\ \ \ \
\ \ \ \
|| ||
|| ||
|| ||
|| ||
o + + - - o
+ == ==----\ /---== == -
o + \ + - / - o
+ \ /
o C/ o
- | | - / \ + | | +
- | o | - - / + \ + | o | +
| |_____/ \_____| |
- |----| - + |----| +
|____| |____|
| | | |
| | | |
|__| |__|



Once you have the water dripping, you can expect high voltage to
immediately appear. Touch one of the coffee cans gently and listen for
tiny "static" sparks. Obtain a small "NE-2" neon pilot light, hold it by
one wire, then touch one of the cans with the other wire. You should see
a dim orange flash. Touch a can on one side, then a can on the other, and
you should receive a tiny spark each time. Don't connect the NE-2
directly across the two wires or it will short out the generator and
prevent high voltage buildup. Instead, you can connect the NE-2 to one of
the generator's wires and bend it so the NE-2's other lead is very close
to the other wire. Small sparks will jump across the small gap and flash
the NE-2. The smaller the gap, the faster yet dimmer the flashing.


If none of this works, it may be because the humidity is high and your
device is having trouble "deciding" which side should be positive and
which negative. It takes voltage to make voltage, and if your device
starts totally at zero, it may take a minute or two to build up to
maximum. Try holding an electrified object briefly near the cans (for
example: a balloon, a 2liter pop bottle, or some styrofoam, each rubbed on
hair to electrify.)

The energy that builds up between the cans comes from the falling of the
water, and as the stored energy grows, the water has to do more and more
work to add a bit more charge imbalance to the cans. The electrified
drops feel a repulsion force as they fall towards the like-charged cans,
and as the voltage increases, the drops will fall more and more slowly.
They may even start bending their paths, even occasionally falling

If the device is run for very long, the lower cans fill up. How to get
the water out of the cans without discharging them? Here's my addition to
the classic Kelvin Waterdropper: use the "faraday ice pail" effect, where
a conductive hollow object always has no charge inside. Connect an exit
tube inside each lower can as below, so the water DRIPS out (if it falls
in a solid stream, the cans will discharge.)

|| ||
|| ||
|| ||
|| ||
|| || For best results, no sharp edges or
|| || burrs anywhere.
|| WATER ||
|| ||
|| __ __ ||
|| | | | | ||
|| | | | | ||
|| | U | ||
|| | O | ||
====== ======
Uncharged drops
O exit from bottom


Or, even simpler, install a cone-shaped piece of metal window screen
inside a bottomless can, so the water drops touch the screen and continue
through. Make sure the screen is vertically centered, so that the point
of the cone doesn't extend past the lip of the can.

With a little catcher-tray and a fountain pump, you can make the system
recirculate. Or, you can stack all four parts of one Kelvin device in a
single row, for an in-line waterdropper generator.

\ \
\ \
\ \
| |
Neg | |
can | o |
| |

Pos | |
can |...|
w/screen | |
| |

\ / Connect pos to pos, neg to neg
Grounded \ /
Funnel ||
| |
Pos | |
can | o |
| |

Neg | |
can |...|
w/screen | |
| |

Fig. 5 IN-LINE VERSION (wires not shown)

The water supply need not be a "dripper", it can be a high velocity spray,
as long as the jet divides into droplets, not a contiguous stream. And
multiple jets can be used, sort of like a shower head.

I've always wanted to build a gigantic version that works like that below,
with hollow metal toroids. (Use halves of VandeGraff spheres, the halves
with the holes):

\\ \\
\\ \\
\\ \\
|| ||
|| || water
|| || spray
|| ||
___ ___ ___ ___
/ \ / \ / \ / \
| | | | | | | | Four torii
\___/ \___/ \___/ \___/ (shown cross-

___ ___ ___ ___
/ \ / \ / \ / \
| |\ /| | | |\ /| |
\___/ \_/ \___/ \___/ \_/ \___/

conical screens in lower torii touch droplets and release,
discharging them. Entire screen assy must be deep within
the "hole" of each donut so the torus shields it from the
field on the outside.


High-velocity waterjets and hollow-pipe cross-connecting conductors
complete the scene: a "VandeGraaff Generator" version of Kelvin's
Thunderstorm apparatus!

The above generators can be used to run a motor, if the motor is my Pop
Bottle Electrostatic Motor at:
I find that the Kelvin Waterdrop Generator is a little too feeble to keep
the motor going continuously. Instead it builds up a charge imbalance,
then the motor starts turning and rotates a few times, the imbalance is
exhausted, then it builds up again and repeats. This happens a couple of
times per minute. Perhaps if several generators were connected in
parallel, the motor would run continuously.

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