Who has never built small paper boats? Who hasn’t let them float in a little jet of water? Physicists at Leiden University took this seriously. And they set a new record by building the smallest ship in the world. It can even set sails on the water. How did you do it? With a sophisticated 3D printer.
Thinner than a hair
This small boat measures 30 microns from bow to stern. It’s about a third the thickness of a hair. It was 3D printed by the Leiden physicists Rachel Doherty, Daniela Kraft and their colleagues. The microboat has no propeller, the university reported in a statement.
The picture was printed with an electron microscope. It can be found in his article on 3D printed synthetic micro-swimmers in the journal Soft Matter.
Kraft’s research group studies micro-swimmers, tiny particles that move in liquids like water. These can be followed with a microscope. One of its goals is to understand biological micro-swimmers like bacteria.
Thanks to 3D
Most of this type of research is done on spherical particles. However, 3D printing offers new possibilities, as the researchers show in this article. The smallest ship in the world is an example. They also printed spiral-shaped particles that spin when tossed through the water.
And to think that it all started with that little paper boat that we (maybe) all made when we were little.