Nikola Tesla has long been acknowledged for a collection of work that ranged from spectacular (alternating current electricity) to confusing (an “earthquake machine”?). Scientists have investigated one of his lesser-known innovations in greater depth, and they believe they may have discovered new applications for it in the present world.
Tesla’s macrofluidic valve, also known as the Tesla valve, is an odd-shaped fluid tunnel having a central channel linked with several diverting teardrop-shaped loops. The loops are arranged in such a way that fluids may readily flow through them in one direction, but when reversed, the flow is nearly completely blocked.
In other words, it functions similarly to a one-way or check valve, which anyone who has done any plumbing or pump work would be familiar with. The benefit of Tesla’s design is that it does not have any moving elements that can wear out, such as the springs and other mechanisms found in traditional check valves.
“While Tesla is regarded as a magician of electric currents and electrical circuits, his lesser-known work to manage flows or fluid currents was genuinely ahead of its time,” said Leif Ristroph, an associate professor at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.
Ristoph is the senior author of recent research published in Nature Communications that digs deeper into how the Tesla valve works and how it may be employed in the twenty-first century.
By experimenting with copies of the valve, which was patented in 1920, the researchers discovered that at a particular rate of flow, the flow-blocking capabilities of the valve “switch on” by causing turbulence and whirling vortices in the tube.
“Moreover, the turbulence arises at significantly lower flow rates than have ever been recorded for pipes of more typical forms — up to 20 times lower speed than ordinary turbulence in a cylindrical pipe or tube,” Ristoph says. “This demonstrates its ability to regulate flows, which might be useful in a variety of applications.”
Even more interesting, the valve performs better with a flow that is not constant but instead arrives in pulses or oscillations. This makes it potentially suitable for usage in high-vibration situations.
According to Ristoph, “it might be utilized to control the vibrations in engines and machines to pump fuel, coolant, lubricant, or other gases and liquids.”
Ironically, this may make the valve less likely to be used in today’s popular electric automobiles bearing his name. This is because Tesla vehicles employ battery packs and motors that shake less than internal combustion engines. Elon Musk, on the other hand, may one day find a purpose for the valves in SpaceX’s strong rocket engines, which generate a lot of vibrations.
“It’s fascinating that this 100-year-old technology is still not understood and may be beneficial in current technology in ways that have not yet been explored,” says Ristroph.