Igor Bargatin’s Light-Powered Levitation Among ‘Breakthroughs of the Year’ at Falling Walls Science Summit

Founded in 2009 in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall, the Falling Walls Science Summit gathers innovative researchers and thinkers from around the world to discuss breakthrough ideas. In conversation with global leaders in politics, business, and the media, they all aim to answer the annual conference’s core question: which are the next walls to fall in science and society?

This year, those attendees include 200 researchers, drawn from more than 1,000 nominations from 115 countries, who were selected as finalists for the “Science Breakthroughs of the Year.”

One of those researchers is Igor Bargatin, Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics. Among the ten winners in the Engineering and Technology category, he will virtually present his research on a type of light-powered flight known as photophoretic levitation at the Summit next week.

“We used nanomaterials to demonstrate light-powered levitation of microflyers, says Bargatin in his Falling Walls Research description. “For the first time, we devised macroscopic objects that can fly without any moving parts using photophoresis, or light-induced airflow.”

Prior to Bargatin’s research, light-powered flight had only been able to lift microscopic objects. Now, with the combination of his ultra-light nanocardboard, larger structures may be able to fly in this way, opening the doors for many applications, such as exploring the mesosphere, a relatively understudied layer of the Earth’s atmosphere.

“As we understand the photophoretic forces better, we should eventually be able to create a kind of a ‘magic carpet,’ a structure that is many meters in size and flying around using nothing but sunlight,” says Bargatin. “And from that point we should be able to attach useful payloads such as sensors that could provide valuable scientific data from the mesosphere.”