Fan tech on display at NY museum

SAN RAFAEL, CA This technology is so pretty, it is on display at New York's Museum of Modern Art. It's a fan.

Fans are such unnatural devices. This is more like nature in a couple of ways. One, it mimics what water does going down the drain.

"The spiral geometries that liquids form while following the path of least resistance for natural flow," said Jason Oppenheimer, Pax Water Technologies.

And to many people, it looks like a lily. This x-ray of the flower reveals a geometry very similar to a sea shell.

"The flow structures in the oceans, in the way shells grow, in the way that fire dissipates. It's a ubiquitous geometry throughout flow and growth in natural systems," said Oppenheimer.

It's not like no one thought of this before. But no one was able to make something like this before.

"Nature's really hard to mimic," said Oppenheimer.

So, Pax Scientific in San Rafael became the first to apply supercomputers and rapid prototyping machines to the problem. The first application, naturally, is under water, in multimillion gallon standpipes, where drinking water needs to be mixed constantly to prevent the growth of toxins. For years, that was done with expensive pumps.

"We can move the entire volume of a 4 million gallon tank using 300 watts of power -- just a couple of light bulbs," said Oppenheimer.

Air is a fluid, too. So additional applications are smoothing the flow around the fuselage of a plane, or improving the flow of heat away from computers or air conditioners.

Doing things the way nature does them is a fast-growing field called biomimicry. Art imitates nature. But sometimes technology does too.

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