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WE USTA JOKE, SORTA, that applied mathematics was done only behind a locked office door. Pure mathematics reigned. Two recent findings suggest that pure science is still alive and well. Here are tidbits on each.

The World’s First Wood Transistor. Traditional transistors are based on silicon. Their switching on and off as well as current regulation are fundamental to today’s world. However, researchers at Sweden’s Linköping University, together with colleagues from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, have now developed the world’s first electrical transistor made of wood.

This is both a fundamental achievement in electronics as well as an excellent example of pure science.

Anders Törneholm cites Linköping University researchers, April 28, 2023: “ ‘We’ve come up with an unprecedented principle. Yes, the wood transistor is slow and bulky, but it does work, and has huge development potential,’ says Isak Engquist, senior associate professor at the Laboratory for Organic Electronics at Linköping University.”

A balsa transistor. This and following image from Linköping University News.

Balsa to the Fore. I recall aircraft modeling in my youth with balsa, a lightweight, formable wood. Törneholm writes, “The researchers used balsa wood to create their transistor, as the technology involved requires a grainless wood that is evenly structured throughout. They removed the lignin, leaving only long cellulose fibres with channels where the lignin had been.”

“These channels,” Törneholm  says, “were then filled with a conductive plastic, or polymer, called PEDOT:PSS, resulting in an electrically conductive wood material.”

Elements of a wood transistor.

The Balsa Transistor. Researchers showed their device “is able to regulate electric current and provide continuous function at a selected output level. It could also switch the power on and off, albeit with a certain delay—switching it off took about a second; on, about five seconds.”

Silicon transistors operate in the nanosecond range. But that’s not the point: Researcher Isak Engquist says, “We didn’t create the wood transistor with any specific application in mind. We did it because we could. This is basic research, showing that it’s possible, and we hope it will inspire further research that can lead to applications in the future.”

 Which, of course, is the idea of pure science. 

Törneholm observes, “Possible applications could include regulating electronic plants, which is another strong research area at Linköping University.”

Let’s Celebrate With Champagne. Nicola Davis reports on another bit of pure science in The Guardian: “Solved at Last: The Mystery of Why Champagne Bubbles Go Straight Up,” May 3, 2023.

Image from

Not that I’ve ever really noticed, but champagne bubbles, like those of some types of beer, rise in straight paths. David quotes Professor Roberto Zenit, Brown University: “Our intuition, from studying bubble dynamics, is that bubbles rising in line do not follow a straight line. The wake behind each bubble knocks out the trailing bubble behind to the side. But this is not the case for champagne….”

How Come?  Davis writes, “According to Zenit, the unusual trait is down to particular ingredients in champagne that not only give it flavour but attach to the bubbles, changing the motion of the fluid immediately behind them as they rise and hence allowing the bubbles to form a chain.”

Image from The Guardian.

Davis continues, “These molecules, which attach to the bubble surface, induce changes in the wake which, in turn, cause the bubbles to not be knocked out from the in-line configuration, said Zenit.”

A Champagne Model. Davis says, “Writing in the journal Physical Review Fluids, Zenit and colleagues in the US and France describe how they came to their conclusions by conducting a series of experiments in which nitrogen bubbles were introduced to a tank filled with a mixture of water and glycerin.”

“ ‘These are mock analogs of champagne,’ said Zenit. The team varied both the size of the bubbles and the levels of detergent like chemicals in the mixture, known as surfactants. The results revealed that as the size of the bubble increased, the bubbles began to form stable chains, meaning the bubbles rose through the fluid in a straight line. A similar effect was seen when the bubble size was kept constant and the concentration of surfactant was increased.”

Pure or Applied Bubble Dynamics? Zenit is quoted as saying, “Understanding why bubbles rise in line or dispersed has important implications for other problems, like industrial processes or natural phenomena.” 

I wonder if he and his colleagues left their office doors unlocked during this fluid dynamics research? ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023

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