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LIU Brooklyn Professor Tweaks Einstein’s Viscosity Theorem

Viscosity has application for lubricants


Alka Gupta,Assistant Director of Public Relations
LIU Brooklyn,
Long Island University

LIU Brooklyn Andreas ZavitsasBrooklyn, N.Y. – Andreas Zavitsas, senior professor of chemistry and biochemistry at LIU Brooklyn, is not afraid to take on accepted norms in science, even those espoused by Einstein.

In his latest paper, published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry, he examines Einstein's well-known viscosity equation - developed by the genius more than a century ago and among his most cited articles - and fine-tunes it. Viscosity, according to the professor, refers to thickness, or resistance to flow of a liquid.

"For example, if you put sugar in water, the solution becomes thicker the more sugar you add - that is viscosity," said professor Zavitsas. Water is "thin," with a lower viscosity, while maple syrup is "thick" with a higher viscosity.

Professor Zavitsas, who helped develop heat shields for the Apollo spacecraft missions four decades ago, explained that viscosity is important because it can have many different applications, such as in lubricants: "Whoever discovered the wheel was smart enough to know if you put spit on the axle, it will move easier. That's why we put oil in a car. And that's where viscosity is useful."

Einstein put forth a key formula on viscosity in his doctoral dissertation in 1905, his "annus mirabilis" or miraculous year, in which he also developed his theory of relativity, investigated the atomic nature of matter and laid the groundwork for quantum physics for which he later won the Nobel Prize. But his paper on the diffusion of sugar in solution and the effect of dissolved sugar on the solution's viscosity remains among his most important discoveries.

Over the years, scientists have conducted many experiments that simulate the concentrations of viscosity in solutions and suspensions. In his paper, Dr. Zavitsas examined thousands of scientific articles in which viscosity was used.

Einstein's 1905 equation formulated that viscosity equaled 2.5 volume of solute/total volume. Einstein did refine his equation some years later, but it still provided an estimate, not specifics.

"It turns out that his equation is not useful for concentrated fluids," said Dr. Zavitsas, who found a more accurate representation for viscosity is 2.9 volume of solute/volume of solvent. "What is important is the ratio of solute to the volume of the solvent, not to the total volume. My expectation is within two years, no one will use original equation."

The accurate viscosity equation has ramifications for many industries, ranging from those that make maple syrup and wine products to oil and diabetic medications, in which viscosity is central to achieve the correct effect.

"That is how it is with fundamental science – you never know how it can be used," said Dr. Zavitsas, who published three well-regarded papers in 2012. The professor's work has been cited nearly 1,500 times in a wide range of journals of research in chemistry, physics, biology, biochemistry and engineering, bringing worldwide recognition to LIU's research contributions to scientific knowledge. He also has received several grants for LIU totaling about $2.4 million.

With colleagues at LIU and at the Australian National University, Dr. Zavitsas is now investigating how active free radicals contribute to aging and death. "Our research will put various free radicals in a common and correct stability and activity scale, one that can have broad applications, ranging from biological functions to better plastics," he said.  

Dr. Zavitsas earned his master's degree and Ph.D. from Columbia University. He worked for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission at Brookhaven National Laboratory and for the Monsanto Chemical Co. At LIU Brooklyn since 1967, Dr. Zavitsas has been an invited research fellow at the Australian National University and a visiting research professor at the National Research Council of Italy.

LIU Brooklyn is distinguished by...
dynamic curricula reflecting the great urban community it serves. Distinctive programs encompass the arts and media, the natural sciences, business, social policy, urban education, the health professions and pharmacy, and include the Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, the Ph.D. in Pharmaceutics, the D.P.T. in Physical Therapy and the Pharm.D. in Pharmacy. A vibrant urban oasis in downtown Brooklyn, this diverse and thriving campus offers academic excellence, personalized attention, small class size and flexible course schedules. In 2006, a $45-million Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center was opened to serve the Campus and the surrounding community. In 2007, the Cyber Café was launched, providing a high-tech hot spot for students and faculty members to meet and eat.

Posted 01/31/2013

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