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Zhong Lin Wang, Regents Professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech, holds a prototype DC nanogenerator fabricated using an array of zinc oxide nanowires.  (Source: Georgia Tech Photo by Gary Meek)
Georgia Tech team says tiny generators could replace bulky batteries in medical devices

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have reported successful testing of nanoscale devices that are capable of generating small amounts of electricity from blood flow or the contraction of blood vessels in the body.

Regents’ Professor Zhong Lin Wang and his colleagues at Georgia Tech's School of Materials Science and Engineering state that the nanogenerators could be used to power nanoscale medical devices within the body. This would do away with the need for batteries or other external power sources.

“It sets a solid foundation for self-powering implantable and wireless nanodevices and nanosystems in biofluid and any other type of liquid," Wang said in a recent interview with United Press International.

The article, scheduled to appear in the August 9 issue of the Nano Papers journal, describes how the team created working nanogenerators from a single strand of zinc oxide nanowire and a nanowire belt. Using arrays of vertically-aligned nanowires that move inside a novel “zigzag” plate electrode, the devices are able to continuously produce electricity using a phenomenon known as the piezoelectric effect. Zinc oxide and other piezoelectric materials are able to convert mechanical energy — such as flexing or twisting — into electricity.

In addition to converting the energy from blood flow into electrical current, the devices could also harness muscle contractions and a variety of other organic bodily functions, according to the researchers. "The technology has the potential of converting mechanical movement energy (such as body movement, muscle stretching, blood pressure), vibration energy (such as acoustic/ultrasonic wave), and hydraulic energy (such as flow of body fluid, blood flow, contraction of blood vessels) into electric energy," the article abstract states.

The researchers say that future generations of the technology could be used to create wireless self-powered nanodevices, to charge battery-powered devices and to build larger electric power generators.

The Georgia Tech research on nanogenerators at has been funded in part by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

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free lunch?
By bunga28 on 7/25/07, Rating: 0
RE: free lunch?
By TheTerl on 7/25/2007 3:24:08 PM , Rating: 4
I think you overstate the risk a bit. Certainly this type of device would not be appropriate for every patient, particularly some cases you mentioned where the heart and arteries already suffer. For tiny medical devices and sensors, the amount of power needed might be a thousandth of a watt - and to put that in perspective, the average person outputs around 100 watts just sitting and resting. 'Squeeze' an extra apple, or sandwich, or cookie into your diet and you would be set for months. Also remember the piezoelectric energy harvesting devices they mention can be made so small (with MEMS technology where it is now, easily the size of an individual cell) that reducing circulation should be a non-issue. Just as you wouldn't worry about reduced blood flow when you stretch your arms or close your fist, it will be no more problem here.

RE: free lunch?
By elegault on 7/25/2007 3:29:29 PM , Rating: 3
It won't slow down the blood supply.

The heart is a pump. Pumps initiate fluid flow. The resistance to this flow is present as pressure.

Every component of our circulatory system has a pressure drop, i.e. arteries, etc.

If we add a component (these generators) there will likely be a higher pressure drop. To overcome this the heart will operate at high pressures.

How much higher is obviously unknown. But, considering the pressure drops already in our system, I expect the addition of one or two of these devices will be negligible.

Natural artery clogging is much more of an issue.

RE: free lunch?
By Sebec on 7/25/2007 8:34:17 PM , Rating: 2
A few corrections to your understanding of physiology, friend. Resistance to flow in a blood vessel is resistance, not pressure. Resistance is affected by the viscosity of the blood (?), the length of the blood vessel (l), and the radius of the blood vessel raised to the fourth power (r^4), described by the Poiseuille equation. R=8?l/pr^4

Pressure difference across the vessel is the driving force for flow. As in electricity, (I = ?V/R), Ohm's law also applies to the circulatory system, where Q = ?P/R, where Q = flow, ?P = the pressure difference, and R = resistance.

RE: free lunch?
By Sebec on 7/25/2007 8:36:09 PM , Rating: 2
The Greek letters in those equations apparently came out as question marks. The ones used were delta, eta, and pi.

RE: free lunch?
By Adul on 7/25/2007 3:40:27 PM , Rating: 5
How many of these things do i need if I want to be able to shoot bolts of electricity from my fingers :)

RE: free lunch?
By alkolkin on 7/25/2007 4:47:04 PM , Rating: 2
My God, that was the funniest response to a blog that I ever read!

RE: free lunch?
By kyleb2112 on 7/26/2007 1:45:22 AM , Rating: 4
Mitochlorians V1.0. But you'll need the Dark Side plugin.

We are the Borg
By Master Kenobi on 7/25/2007 3:08:04 PM , Rating: 4
We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.

RE: We are the Borg
By GhandiInstinct on 7/25/2007 3:16:22 PM , Rating: 4
Lilu Dallas Multi-Pass

RE: We are the Borg
By EODetroit on 7/25/2007 4:25:23 PM , Rating: 2
I was thinking more Matrix than Borg myself.

News Headlines
By jonodsparks on 7/25/2007 1:28:50 PM , Rating: 6
Man electrocutes himself during sex, powers neighborhood for 3 minutes.

Sounds dangerous
By audiophi1e on 7/25/2007 7:41:50 PM , Rating: 2
Anytime a foreign object is introduced into your body, an immune response will mount. Lots of times it will result in dangerous occlusion of the blood vessels.

Having these things in your blood vessels would be similar to having stents placed (for coronary arteries). People who have stents have to be on Plavix (clopidogrel) and/or aspirin for the rest of their lives.

i'll pass on this technology as a renewal source of energy for implants (like pacemakers), but I'd bet we could find a different use for it outside the body.

RE: Sounds dangerous
By XesBOX on 7/26/2007 11:31:19 AM , Rating: 2
I guess all those success stories of synthetic heart valves I've read were all just make believe.

As I understand it, most reactions are to biological reagents, not mechanical. Not that it doesn't happen, but if you haven't noticed, the medical profession uses quite a number of foreign objects to fix people.

RE: Sounds dangerous
By Spyvie on 8/15/2007 6:18:12 PM , Rating: 2
...I'd bet we could find a different use for it outside the body

Although this implementation using nanowires is way more sophisticated (and smaller!), simple piezoelectric devices have been around forever. The little sparky mechanisms in some lighters and BBQs are piezoelectric igniters.

How about for exoskeletons
By GreenEnvt on 7/25/2007 2:26:56 PM , Rating: 5
Another possible use that comes to mind, would be if these were placed on muscles, they could tell an exo-skeleton type suit, like for the army or astronauts, to engage a motor at that location.

What if you need a boost?
By isorfir on 7/25/2007 1:07:28 PM , Rating: 3
In addition to converting the energy from blood flow into electrical current, the devices could also harness muscle contractions and a variety of other organic bodily functions...

Blood flow is great, but what if you needed a boost? I think the urine stream would be even better.

This would be great when someone needs a jump for their car!

RE: What if you need a boost?
By SRoode on 7/25/2007 1:25:42 PM , Rating: 1
Next thing you know they'll be tapping our "natural gas" ;)

By TimberJon on 7/25/2007 2:51:17 PM , Rating: 2
powers city for 3 minutes. More like causes city-wide blackout.

This is great for having to power neural or optical enhancements in the future. Any surgically-embedded technology will need a power source. Even for the addition of memory storage and live-playback.

By Ringold on 7/25/2007 4:20:37 PM , Rating: 2
Reminds me of when I read Eternity's End. The protagonist had implants that could recall information, provide directions, or emit waves that encouraged different emotional states like calm or clarity. A wikipedia in the brain. None of which should be far-fetched, merely just beyond the current reach of technology.

Of course, the most interesting part was how it hooked up with another person's implants for a, ah, "LAN Party". Which reminds me of Cone Heads... anyway..

power generator
By djcameron on 7/25/2007 2:04:25 PM , Rating: 3
Next thing you know, they'll require us to plug into the grid during peak usage times to avoid rolling blackouts.

I can finally take this solar panel of my
By PAPutzback on 7/25/2007 2:20:09 PM , Rating: 1

By jonodsparks on 7/25/2007 2:26:34 PM , Rating: 2
It see THAT much sun light? You might want to consider a bit of SPF 30, keep the doctor from getting scalpel happy.

By Mitch101 on 7/25/2007 1:30:09 PM , Rating: 2
My own internal matrix?

Old news
By verndewd on 7/26/2007 1:06:36 AM , Rating: 2
Old news but still great for pace maker recipients; Hope its fully functional and tested before my uncle kicks off.

By Visual on 7/26/2007 4:17:18 AM , Rating: 2
so, what the *beep* does "to implatant" mean? are you sure you didn't mean inplatantiatabitable or somesuch? do you need help installing a spellchecker?

begining of the end
By invidious on 7/26/2007 10:37:41 AM , Rating: 2
did anyone else think "the matrix" when they first saw this?

By nekobawt on 7/26/2007 11:01:48 AM , Rating: 2
Well, it sounds good, but (assuming the body doesn't completely reject the generator out of hand) what about when the person has high blood pressure for some reason? Would the implants such as pacemakers need a power surge buffer or something to prevent shorting out?

A little confused as to why...
By JonnyDough on 7/25/2007 4:29:31 PM , Rating: 1
Why can't we just have nano-kinetics that run off natural body movement like the fall and rise of your chest when you sleep at night, or much more vigorous activities like walking? We have it already in watches. Plus, there is radioactive energy and other types everywhere that scientists are learning to tap into. Still, it's a great idea to have hydro-electric power from our veins. A last thought...if I had this nano-generator for my pacemaker, I'd still want a battery backup.

"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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