Researchers Make One-Atom-Thin Electrical Generator

Super-thin material could turn clothing into a power source

How thin can an electrical generator possibly be? Thanks to a study published yesterday in Nature, the answer is about as thin as possible. Using molybdenum disulfide, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Columbia Engineering proved that a layer just an atom thick can generate an electric charge.

The key to this charge is piezoelectricity, or the electric generated from pressure, usually from stretching or compressing a material. With the molybdenum disulfide, the researchers found that it generated electricity in layers that were an odd number of atoms thick, including layers as thin as one atom.

From the abstract:

Squeezing Charges From Material

This is a cartoon showing positive and negative polarized charges are squeezed from a single layer of atoms of molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), as it is being stretched.

Single-atom-thick materials are exciting, because they open up new possibilities for materials science, like making tiny transistors. Molybdenum disulfide is particularly interesting because of its potential as a thin transistor incorporated into other materials. Now that scientists have shown atom-thin layers of it can generate electricity, future designers and engineers might incorporate it into very small and self-powering machines. Because it needs to stretch to generate power, it might not work well on a tablet-like device, but imagine it built into a shoe with a display that can tell how many steps you’ve made that day.

Kelsey D. Atherton
Kelsey D. Atherton

Kelsey D. Atherton is a defense technology journalist based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work on drones, lethal AI, and nuclear weapons has appeared in Slate, The New York Times, Foreign Policy, and elsewhere.