Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

The Sciences

Rat vs. Chemist

By Bennett DavissJanuary 1, 1996 6:00 AM

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Not even a lab rat can be certain of a job anymore. West Virginia University chemist Kenneth Showalter has found a better way of negotiating a maze--one that takes advantage of the peculiar properties not of rats but of chemical waves. These occur in certain reactions that produce their own catalyst, just as a brush fire generates the heat needed to burn more brush, and they propagate indefinitely along a front that takes any path open to it--racing down straightaways, bending around obstacles, and dying out only when it reaches an unbreachable barrier. Belgian chemist Agnessa Babloyantz had predicted in 1991 that such a reaction wave would trace the shortest route through a maze, but until last February, when Showalter announced his results, nobody had proved the hypothesis experimentally. Showalter first soaked a polymer membrane in the chemicals that create the most distinct waves--malonic acid, bromate ions, sulfuric acid, and an iron catalyst. Then he cut the membrane into the shape of a maze. Finally he touched off the reaction in the lower left corner and tracked the wave’s progress. (The colors--red, green, yellow, and blue--show the position of the wave front at four successive intervals of time.) It was then a simple matter to trace the shortest route from the starting point to any point in the labyrinth. The wave, Showalter enthusiastically points out, automatically gives you the optimal path.

2 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In