Illustration of a 2D space-filling bearing configuration with 31 rotor discs. The researchers say they adapted this static illusory-motion image from the “Rotating Snakes” visual illusion created by Akiyoshi Kitaoka, a professor at Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan. (Courtesy: N A M Araújo et al.)

Physicists discover key to ultra-stable bearings

Feb 15, 2013

Networks of rotating bearings can better recover from perturbations to their harmonious motion if the masses of the individual discs are proportional to their radii – this is the finding of a team of physicists based in Switzerland and Brazil. Although surprising, the result hints at how to construct more robust mechanical bearings, as well as offering fresh insight into the synchronization of complex oscillating systems such as electrical networks and the Internet.

Bearings are the small workhorses at the heart of many mechanical devices used today. The secret to their success is that they reduce the friction between two surfaces that need to slide past one another by offering them a chance to roll. Think of the Ancient Egyptians transporting gigantic slabs of rock on beds of rolling logs – would the pyramids ever have been realized if the rocks had been shunted along the ground unaided? A more sophisticated example is the wheel on a rollerblade. Its internal casing houses a ring of tiny ball-bearings that allows the outer part to spin smoothly against the inner part, affording the wearer speed for very little effort.

Read more: Physicists discover key to ultra-stable bearings – physicsworld.com.

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