Imagine charging your phone as you walk, thanks to a paper-thin generator embedded in the sole of your shoe. This futuristic scenario is now a little closer to reality. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have developed a way to generate power using harmless viruses that convert mechanical energy into electricity.
The scientists tested their approach by creating a generator that produces enough current to operate a small liquid-crystal display. It works by tapping a finger on a postage stamp-sized electrode coated with specially engineered viruses. The viruses convert the force of the tap into an electric charge.
The short-term implications for this technology are very cool -- I love the idea of having a cell phone that charges itself in my pocket when I walk around -- (a.) I'd never have to worry about being stuck without my charger because I've been unexpectedly away from home for too long, and (b.) it would be awesome if our technology started providing intrinsic incentives to be more active. This kind of technology could counterbalance the tendency towards poor health that existing technology encourages.
But the coolest thing about it is its capacity for use in nano-electronics and replication machinery:
The M13 bacteriophage only attacks bacteria and is benign to people. Being a virus, it replicates itself by the millions within hours, so there’s always a steady supply. It’s easy to genetically engineer. And large numbers of the rod-shaped viruses naturally orient themselves into well-ordered films, much the way that chopsticks align themselves in a box.
These are the traits that scientists look for in a nano building block.
I realize this freaks some people out, but I love that technology is getting more like organic life -- and more made of it.