November 9, 2004

Aunt Jemima makes bubbly breakthrough in scientific world

Quite a few people enjoy playing with their food. Scientists, however, sometimes make important discoveries as they munch. Researchers in Sidney Nagel's laboratory at the University have studied the behavior of air bubbles in breakfast syrup in hopes of discovering how to make extremely thin liquid threads for biomedical applications.

The threads, which measure one-fifth of a human hair, may also have a function in fiber optics, electronics, and other such industries. Researcher Wendy Zhang, an assistant professor in the physics department, reports that it is theoretically possible to make threads still thinner by slightly altering experimental procedures. There is, however, a limit to fabricating an infinitely thin thread. According to Zhang, a thread cannot be thinner than the molecules of which it is made.

If the breakfast-oriented nature of the experiment sounds a bit silly, Nagel and his colleagues have a serious objective. The goal is to develop a method of precisely controlling fluid flow to protect transplanted insulin-producing cells from the body's immune system. The work remains in its theoretical stages, yet to be proven in practice.