Chemical wheels: engineers transform them into gears for mechanical tasks

Engineers transform wheels into gears for mechanical tasks

The engineers from the University of Pittsburgh managed to create new chemical-driven wheels. They are converted into gears and can do mechanical work. To do that, the scientists first used a catalytic reaction, it makes a two-dimensional sheet with a chemical coating independently and arbitrarily turn into a three-dimensional gear. The finished part can perform long-term mechanical tasks.

These results demonstrated the feasibility of developing chemically driven vehicles. They are completely independent of external energy. For them to work effectively, it is enough to add certain reagents to the surrounding solution.


A leading specialist Abhrajit Laskar noted that a certain external energy would be required to complete the task - it could be steam, electricity. But it limits the potential of future machines of that type.

Chemical-mechanical transduction is a completely new way of replicating the behavior of gears without requiring access to traditional energy sources. To create the model, the engineers used catalysts by placing them at various points on a two-dimensional sheet. In general, the model is a spoked wheel.

The flexible sheet was then placed in a microchamber filled with a special liquid, and a reagent was added that activated the catalysts on the flat wheel and caused the liquid to spontaneously flow.


The incoming stream lifted the light parts of the sheet to the surface, thus forming an active rotor that captured the stream and began to rotate. According to the engineers, the research combines deformation and movement to reshape an object to create continuous motion.

Deformation was the key factor in this case. In nature, organisms use energy to change their shape and movement. In the creation of the model, this natural function was not only confirmed, but also found its application.

Reference: “Self-Morphing, Chemically Driven Gears and Machines” by Abhrajit Laskar, Oleg E. Shklyaev and Anna C. Balazs, 18 December 2020, Matter. DOI: 10.1016/j.matt.2020.11.04