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Brownian ratchets in physics and biology

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Thirty years ago Feynman et al. presented a paradox in the Lectures on Physics: an imagined device could let Brownian motion do work by allowing it in one direction and blocking it in the opposite direction. In the chapter Feynman et al. eventually show that such ratcheting can only be achieved if there is, in compliance with the basic conservation laws, some energy input from an external source. Now that technology is going into ever smaller dimensions, ratcheting Brownian motion seems to be a real possibility in nanotechnological applications. Furthermore, Brownian motion plays an essential role in the action of motor proteins (individual molecules that convert chemical energy into motion).

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: November 1, 1997

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