Physicists unveil revolutionary technique to write in water

The saying, "His name was etched in water," has vanished into obscurity

1783779311 (For representation) Scientists push the limits of creativity with water writing | Shutterstock

The proverbial phrase, "His name was written in water," which once symbolised instant oblivion and fading memory, may soon become a relic of the past. 

In the world of art and human communication, writing and drawing have always required a solid surface, like paper or clay, to capture our thoughts and creativity. However, a team of researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, TU Darmstadt, and Wuhan University has embarked on a fascinating quest: how to write in water itself, without relying on any substrates.

Imagine being able to create three-dimensional "vapor trails" in water, similar to how aircraft leave trails in the sky. To achieve this, they needed to overcome a significant challenge: the turbulence caused by a regular pen or nib moving through water tends to erase any ink marks it makes. But here's where it gets interesting.

Instead of using traditional ink, they introduced an ingenious solution. They employed a minuscule bead, measuring a mere 20 to 50 microns in diameter, made of ion-exchange material, as their writing instrument. This tiny bead doesn't disrupt the water, and here's the clever part: it exchanges ions with the water, altering its local pH value. When the bead is gently rolled across the water's surface, it leaves behind an invisible track of lower pH, effectively "writing" in the water.

While we're still in the early days of this innovative technique, it's clear that we're witnessing the birth of a new form of expression and exploration in the world of fluid dynamics. Whether you're an artist, a scientist, or simply curious about the boundaries of human creativity, this is a development worth keeping an eye on.

To form letters or shapes, you tilt the water bath to guide the bead along the desired path. During their early experiments, they did this manually, but they later developed a programmable system to automate the process. This technology is still in its early stages, but the potential is enormous.

What's truly remarkable is that this method isn't limited to writing alone. The researchers believe it could be applied to create intricate patterns and structures within liquids, and even erased and corrected if needed. They also explored the possibility of using different components, such as laser-heated particles or microswimmers, to achieve more complex effects and patterns.

One significant advantage of this approach is that it doesn't require a solid base for the fluid container, making it incredibly versatile. The lines created remain visible for about ten minutes, but with UV-sensitive inks, they could potentially be fixed in place for longer periods.

This study, conducted by a collaborative effort of renowned universities, presents a multitude of potential opportunities. It has the potential to transform the field of art, provide innovative methods for monitoring chemical traces in liquids, and lay the groundwork for exciting advancements in fluid manipulation technology. The findings of this research have been published in the esteemed journal Small.