Nanowires inside a rat can convert the power of breathing and heartbeats into electricity, according to researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The nano-generator could conceivably lead to nano-scale medical implants and sensors powered by the body, Technology Review reports.
Zhong Lin Wang, a materials science and engineering professor at Georgia Tech, led the team that attached the nano-generator to a rat's diaphragm.Researchers put a zinc oxide nanowire onto a flexible polymer and encapsulated it into a polymer casing to protect it from bodily fluids, Tech Review reports. When attached to the rat's diaphragm, the animal's breathing stretched the nanowire, and it generated a tiny amount of electricity -- about four pico-amps of current at two millivolts. When it was attached to the rat's heart, the nano-generator produced about 30 pico-amps at about three millivolts.
The rat generator operates at the femtowatt scale -- a pico-amp is a million millionth of an amp, so it is a tiny amount of current -- so not very much power. But the technology has potential to power nano-sized devices, Wang says in a paper on the results published in the journal Advanced Materials.
Wang's team is already building on the rat findings, Tech Review reports. The team has a device that integrates hundreds of nanowires into an array, giving an output current of about 100 nano-amps at 1.2 volts. The next step is to connect the higher-powered nano-generator inside an animal, Wang says.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.