Sunday 22 July 2018

Crying will soon generate electricity, says Irish scientists

(stock photo)
(stock photo)

Ian Begley

Breaking down in tears will soon be able to light up a room thanks to a team of Irish scientists.

Researchers from the University of Limerick (UL) found that applying pressure to a protein found in tears can actually generate electricity.

However, it is not only tears that may someday charge your phone 

The protein is also found in the egg whites of birds, saliva and milk.

The ability to generate electricity by applying pressure is known as direct piezoelectricity.

It is a property of materials that can convert mechanical energy into electrical energy and vice versa.

These materials are already used in a variety of applications ranging from mobile phones to deep ocean sonars and ultrasound imaging.

Bone, tendon and wood are long known to possess piezoelectricity.

“While piezoelectricity is used all around us, the capacity to generate electricity from this particular protein had not been explored," said the study's lead author Aimee Stapleton.

"However, because it is a biological material, it is non-toxic so it could have many innovative applications such as electroactive anti-microbial coatings for medical implants. 

The electricity-making protein, known as 'crystals of lysozyme', are said to be easy to make from natural sources.

“The high precision structure of lysozyme crystals has been known since 1965,” said co-author Professor Tewfik Soulimane.

“In fact, it is the second protein structure and the first enzyme structure that was ever solved,” he added, “but we are the first to use these crystals to show the evidence of piezoelectricity”.   

The discovery may have wide reaching applications and could lead to further research in the area of energy harvesting and flexible electronics for biomedical devices.

Future applications of the discovery may include controlling the release of drugs in the body by using lysozyme as a physiologically mediated pump that scavenges energy from its surroundings.

Being naturally biocompatible and piezoelectric, lysozyme may present an alternative to conventional piezoelectric energy harvesters, many of which contain toxic elements such as lead. 

Professor Luuk van der Wielen, Director of Bernal Institute and Bernal Professor of Biosystems Engineering and Design expressed his delight at this breakthrough by UL scientists.

“The Bernal Institute has the ambition to impact the world on the basis of top science in an increasingly international context. The impact of this discovery in the field of biological piezoelectricity will be huge and Bernal scientists are leading from the front the progress in this field,” he said. 

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