OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — Kids across the world emptied their stockings Christmas morning to a host of treats and trinkets, undoubtedly including the newly popular fidget spinner: a simple gadget made of flat plastic spinning on a ball bearing.

Well, Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists have created their own version, but don’t expect to see kids playing with them at the New Year’s party this year. In fact, don’t expect to see one at all, unless you happen to have an electron microscope.

ORNL scientists have created possibly the world’s smallest fidget spinner, which measures just 100 microns wide, almost 130 times smaller than Texas A&M University’s earlier take on the record, a half-inch version that had to be spun on the end of a thumbtack.

The gadget is 3-D printed from plastic, though “not the type of plastic you would normally think of, like your hair brush,” staff scientist Adam Rondinone said. “It’s a photo cross-linked polymer, which means it starts out as a viscous liquid.”

When scientists expose the mold to high-intensity laser light, the plastic becomes solid. They wash away the excess liquid and Voila, a teeny, tiny fidget spinner.

Rondinone said researchers at ORNL’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences did not start out looking to make the world’s smallest fidget spinner. The scientists wanted to let the generation that would some day replace them know that the center is a user facility.

That means students and researchers can come use the facility’s labs for their own research free of cost, as long as they make their result available in the public domain.

“(The Department of Energy) has a mission for education, workforce development, and so for us, it’s a way of reaching out and trying to get to the younger people who will be graduate students at some point who may want to come here and do some of the work here,” he said.

ORNL plans to include the fidget spinner in its traveling science fair, so kids can watch it spin under the microscope in person. Entertaining kids isn’t the only use for the spinner though. After all, Oak Ridge is a national laboratory.

Rondinone said the world’s smallest fidget spinner may have future applications as the world’s smallest manufactured motor.

“You can use them for all kinds of devices,” he said. “There are lots of applications where you want small, mechanical devices and a motor can be used to drive one of those.”


Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com

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BRITTANY CROCKER
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