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German boffins plan frictionless liquid crystal lubricant

'Sliding rod' slips in easily with right orientation

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German boffins at the Fraunhofer Institute say they are working on an "almost frictionless" lubricant made from liquid crystals like those used in flat-panel displays. They think that the LCD lube could be ready for market as soon as 2011.

As any fule kno, liquid crystal molecules can be made to point the same way under the correct stimulus.

"You might compare them to matches with their heads all pointing in the same direction," says Doktor Andreas Kailer of the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM.

It seems that if two surfaces sliding over one another are pressed together, frictional forces can drop almost to zero if liquid crystals are used to lubricate them. In a joint project with the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Potsdam and the Mainz company Nematel, Kailer's IWM researchers are investigating which liquid crystals are most suitable for use as lubricants, and under what conditions.

Normal crystals as used in LCDs are high-purity and quite expensive, but the German grease-boffins think that lower-purity, cheaper stuff could be used in their applications.

According to the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft:

The testing unit exerts a certain amount of force on a metal cylinder that is moved back and forth.

Kailer adds:

"In contrast to normal liquids ... liquid crystals have a certain orientation ... [they] have not been suitable as a lubricant for ball bearings until now.

"For slide bearings, on the other hand, liquid crystals are the perfect solution. We hope to be able to market a liquid crystal lubricant in three to five years' time." ®

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