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"The point sticks in your head: physics rules. Virtue does not triumph unless the physics allows it."
- Larry Niven

Filter Wheel  
  A device for filtering liquid or gas to obtain a pure sample of a selected molecule.  

Many science fiction authors of the late twentieth century are obsessed with cleaning things up. The air and the water, for instance.

Dirty air and dirty water came in and pooled in tanks. Next to each tank was another tank containing slightly cleaner water or cleaner air. The tanks at the end were filled with perfectly clean nitrogen gas and perfectly clean water.

The line of tanks was referred to as a cascade...All the action took place in the walls separating the tanks, which were not really walls but nearly infinite grids of submicroscopic wheels, ever-rotating and many-spoked. Each spoke grabbed a nitrogen or water molecule on the dirty side and released it after spinning around to the clean side.

Technovelgy from The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson.
Published by Bantam Books in 1995
Additional resources -

This kind of filter reminds me of Maxwell's demon, an amusing thought experiment by Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), who revolutionized electromagnetism. The idea is that the demon operated a sort of gateway; put him at the boundary between two rooms and he could sort the fastest moving molecules into one room and the slowest moving into another. Voila! One room is hot and the other is cold, all without expending any energy. Stephenson's device could work, though; he doesn't say anything about it not requiring any energy to operate.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Diamond Age
  More Ideas and Technology by Neal Stephenson
  Tech news articles related to The Diamond Age
  Tech news articles related to works by Neal Stephenson

Filter Wheel-related news articles:
  - Combat Feeding: Just Add Water - Any Water
  - Magnetically Driven Rotary Microfilter 3D Printed

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