Now viruses will generate electricity using piezoelectric effect. Yes! The future of electricty generation is here when you can charge your cell while walking , just because you have got a paper thin generator embedded in the sole of your shoes. According to the scientists at U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, it is not possible to generate power using harmless viruses that can convert mechanical energy into electrical energy.
This new theory was brought into practical use the first time when the scientists created a generator small enought to create the energy required to run a small liquid crystal display. The required mechanical work was done by tapping the finger on a postage stamp- sized electrode coated with specially engineered viruses, which was then converted to electricty by the same viruses.
This new method of producing electricty is the first of its kind to have used piezoelcteric properties of a bilogical material to produce electricity. Piezoelectricity is the accumulation of charge in a solid in response to mechanical stress. Its kind of a breakthrough in the the field of electricity generation. When looked closely one can clearly see all the uses of this new technology or better say biotechnology. A person does not need to be a rocket scientist to understand that we see many other sources of vibration and stress in our daily lives like shutting doors, climbing stairs etc. , and if harnessed correctly then we can produce electricity any where we want.
Aside from its easy used ability to produce electricty it has another property which is surely going to make our lives much much easier. In the field of nanotechnology, self assembly is one the most important features sought after in making of any device and since these viruses arrange themselves into an orderly film, they are priceless. Now this opens a door to the new era where making of micro and nano-electric devices wouldn't be too hard.
In the own words of scientists, as they published it in an online journal named "nature nanotechnology"---
"More research is needed, but our work is a promising first step toward the development of personal power generators, actuators for use in nano-devices, and other devices based on viral electronics," says Seung-Wuk Lee, a faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab's Physical Biosciences Division and a UC Berkeley associate professor of bioengineering.
He conducted the research with a team that includes Ramamoorthy Ramesh, a scientist in Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division and a professor of materials sciences, engineering, and physics at UC Berkeley; and Byung Yang Lee of Berkeley Lab's Physical Biosciences Division.
When talked about the mechanism on which it works, piezoelectric effects are prize-holders. This effect was first discovered in 1880 and has since been found in materials like crystals, ceramics, bone, protiens and DNA. The examples of other applications of piezoelectric effects are Electric cigarette lighters and Scanning Probe microscopes. The only limitation that we face in this area is that the materials we are talking about are toxic and thus are very difficult to work with. The groundbreaking idea came in the minds of lee and his colleagues whether a virus which is fortunately studied in labs worldwide could offer something more to this field, and thus started the mission of them to create something that the world hasn't ever seen. The name of the bacteria is "M13 bacteriophage" which by chance only attacks bacteria and is harmless to human beings. As it is a virus, it replicates itself by millions and millions is just a few hours, so they don't need to be cultured specifically. Easily engineered genetically is also one of the features why this process can really turn the way things are going around the world these days. As told before, these rod shaped viruses even in large numbers naturally orient themselves into ordered layers, just the way chopsticks allign themselves in a box.
This virus contains all the basic traits that scientists look for in a nano building block. But the researchers had to first determine whether the virus was really piezoelectric or not. This job was given to Ramesh who is an expert in studying the electrical properties of thin films at nano scale. An application of electric field to a film of M13 viruses revealed what they were looking for. The helical protiens that coat the viruse twisted and turned in response to the electrical field applied, demostrating piezoelectric effects at work. But the piezoelectric strength of the virus was very small and thusin order to amplify the working capacity of the virus, it was cultivated again but this time using some biotechnology. The scientists had to add four negatively charged amino acid residues to one end of the helical protien that coat the virus , and thus increasing the charge difference between the protien's +ve and -ve ends, which in turn boosts the voltage across the virus.The scientists further enhanced the system by stacking films composed of single layers of the virus on top of each other. They found that a stack about 20 layers thick exhibited the strongest piezoelectric effect
The last important step in this discovery was a demostration test of this virus and technique to generate electricity. So the scientists then fabricated a virus -based small scale piexoelectric generator. The genetically engineered virus was then applied over a small area of one square centimeter under the conditions required for the virus to spontaneously arrange itself into a multilayered film. This film was then sandwiched between two gold plated electrodes which were connected by wires to a small liquid crystal display. When pressure was finally applied on the generator, it successfully produces upto six nano amperes of current and 400 mV of potential, enough to flasj the number "1" on the display.
"We're now working on ways to improve on this proof-of-principle demonstration," says Lee. "Because the tools of biotechnology enable large-scale production of genetically modified viruses, piezoelectric materials based on viruses could offer a simple route to novel microelectronics in the future."
After all that these scientists have invented, there seems to be some hope that one day we don't have to worry about power crysis in future. The next step in this research should be further amplification of the piezoelectric power of the virus and the large scale production capacity of this new type of generator. Till then the scientists should implement these new technologies into action like electricity generating shoes and piezoelectric keyboards..etc.
Courtesy - Sciencedaily