Engineers from Drexel University in the U.S. have managed to speed-up the boiling process of water. The team used a special “virus” extracted from tobacco plants to achieve the feat in a process that has remained unchanged for thousands of years or ever since man discovered fire.
Led by engineer Matthew McCarthy, the team coated a heating element with the virus, called the tobacco mosaic virus, and witnessed in awe as it actively cut down the size and number of bubbles that accumulated around the element or source of heat as it heats up, and in turn, heats the water.
Bubbles, as it turns out, are the real culprit, which significantly hinder the transfer of heat from the element to the water. Bubbles accumulated on the element in large numbers actually act as an insulator, separating the element from the water surrounding it. If we can somehow continually remove the bubbles, the element will be able to transfer most of the heat to the water.
In simpler words, less bubbles means a faster heat transfer or faster boiling water. In the current stage of experimentation, the team managed to boil water three times faster than conventional techniques.
Researchers explained it is the peculiar shape of the virus that keeps the bubbles to a minimum. These organisms are long, thin, pencil-shaped, and are equipped with tiny “hooks” to help them grip on to any surface. So, the team genetically engineered a strain of the virus that hooks on and grows vertically on the surface of a heating apparatus, assembling themselves like thousands of microscopic blades of grass. This “grass” was then coated in a thin layer of nickel, which prevented the virus from moving around.
Another more significant benefit of the technique is elimination of “critical heat flux,” which is the formation of a large singular bubble that completely stops heat transfer. Needless to say, in an industrial setting, this can be very dangerous, explained McCarthy.
“What happens then is the dry surface gets hotter and hotter, like a pan on the stove without water in it. This failure can lead to the simple destruction of electronic components, or in power plant cooling applications, the catastrophic meltdown of a nuclear reactor.”
The revolutionary finding will have a deep and profound impact on the safety and efficiency of industrial power plants. However, owing to the ingredients, the team has stated that the process won’t speed-up your tea-making in the near future.
[Image Credit | Dinner With Julie]