Scientists to Generate Electricity by Harmless Viruses

Technology has reformed the way of thinking, gone are those days when everybody has to wait for a discovery to happen. With the advancement in technique, every day is a new day. It’s now possible to generate electricity by embedding a paper-thin generator in the sole of shoe.

Many futuristic scenarios has got alive because of milestone discovery by Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), to generate power by processing harmless viruses that convert mechanical energy into electricity.

The scientists have formed a generator that produces sufficient current to operate a small liquid-crystal display (LCD). 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. This is the first generator that produces power by harnessing the piezoelectric properties of a biological material.

Piezoelectricity is the condition in which the charge accumulates in a solid because of mechanical stress. The discovery has given a way to the scientists to fabricate tiny devices that can harvest energy form the everyday tasks, e.g. shutting a door or climbing stairs.

“Self-assembly is the much sought after goal in the finicky world of nanotechnology,” since the viruses can arrange themselves into an orderly film. This has inspired the scientists to develop microelectric devices, such as generator.

After the discovery of piezoelectric effect in 1880, it is found in crystals, ceramics, bone, proteins and DNA. The effect is  used in many applications such as cigarette lighters and scanning probe microscopes.

The Scientists applied an electrical field to a film of M13 viruses to study their behaviour. Helical proteins that coat the viruses twisted and turned in response, which is a sign of the piezoelectric effect.

Therefore, the scientists fabricated a virus-based piezoelectric energy generator and created the conditions for genetically engineered viruses to spontaneously organize into a multilayered film, which measures about one square centimetre. This film was then sandwiched between two gold-plated electrodes, which were connected by wires to a liquid-crystal display (LCD).

When pressure is applied to the generator, it produces up to six nanoamperes of current and 400 millivolts of potential, which is a quarter of the voltage of a triple A battery.

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