These Laser-Powered Balls Are Strong As Heck

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Laser Balls

Lasers and balls aren’t typically a good combination, unless you’re trying to get rid of your hair down there (and why would you do that?) A recent project from the Osaka Institute of Technology might make you believe different. Using only a beam of laser light as a power source, they’ve invented balls that can pull up to 150 times their weight across water.

Don’t get too excited right away – at the current phase of the experiment, the load-bearing balls are just 8.5mg in weight and floating in a petri dish. But the principles animating them are sound, and it’s feasible that they could be scaled up for industrial applications in the future. assuming they can work out some kinks.

Here’s how it works. The balls (which are really just droplets of water) are coated with a substance called polypyrrole, a plastic that heats up when exposed to light and repels water. When the laser strikes it, it changes the surface tension of the ball, causing it to skim across the water. The scientists were also able to attach tiny plastic boats to the coating, which the ball pulled with ease. Here’s a video.

The Japanese team were inspired by nature – specifically the Stenus beetle, which excretes a substance that affects the surface tension of water in a similar way. Spherical forms have long been known to be efficient for traveling over water, so combining the two techniques made sense.

New Scientist has the full rundown with all the technical details, if you’re interested. We’ll be here lasering some other balls to see what happens. Get your safety goggles on if you want to help out.