How to Generate Electric Currents Within The Human Body

A new nanotechnology development by an international research team led by Tel Aviv University researchers will make it possible to generate electric currents and voltage within the human body through the activation of various organs (mechanical force). The researchers explain that the development involves a new and very strong biological material, similar to collagen, which is non-toxic and causes no harm to the body’s tissues. The researchers believe that this new nanotechnology has many potential applications in medicine, including harvesting clean energy to operate devices implanted in the body (such as pacemakers) through the body’s natural movements, eliminating the need for batteries.

The study was led by Prof. Ehud Gazit of the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research at the Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering and the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, along with his lab team, Dr. Santu Bera and Dr. Wei Ji.

Also taking part in the study were researchers from the Weizmann Institute and a number of research institutes in Ireland, China and Australia

Prof. Gazit, who is also Founding Director of the Blavatnik Center for Drug Discovery, explains: “Collagen is the most prevalent protein in the , constituting about 30% of all of the proteins in our body. It is a with a helical structure and a variety of important physical properties, such as mechanical strength and flexibility, which are useful in many applications. However, because the collagen molecule itself is large and complex, researchers have long been looking for a minimalistic, short and simple molecule that is based on collagen and exhibits similar properties. About a year and a half ago, in the journal Nature Materials, our group published a study in which we used nanotechnological means to engineer a new biological material that meets these requirements. It is a tripeptide—a very short molecule called Hyp-Phe-Phe consisting of only three amino acids—capable of a simple process of self-assembly of forming a collagen-like helical structure that is flexible and boasts a strength similar to that of the metal titanium. In the present study, we sought to examine whether the new material we developed bears another feature that characterizes collagen—piezoelectricity. Piezoelectricity is the ability of a material to generate electric currents and voltage as a result of the application of mechanical force, or vice versa, to create a mechanical force as the result of exposure to an electric field.”

In the study, the researchers created nanometric structures of the engineered material, and with the help of advanced nanotechnology tools, applied mechanical pressure on them. The experiment revealed that the material does indeed produce electric currents and voltage as a result of the pressure. Moreover, tiny structures of only hundreds of nanometers demonstrated one of the highest levels of piezoelectric ability ever discovered, comparable or superior to that of the piezoelectric materials commonly found in today’s market (most of which contain lead and are therefore not suitable for medical applications).

According to the researchers, the discovery of piezoelectricity of this magnitude in a nanometric material is of great significance, as it demonstrates the ability of the engineered material to serve as a kind of tiny motor for very small devices. Next, the researchers plan to apply crystallography and computational quantum mechanical methods (density functional theory) in order to gain an in-depth understanding of the material’s piezoelectric behavior and thereby enable the accurate engineering of crystals for the building of biomedical devices.

Prof. Gazit adds: “Most of the piezoelectric materials that we know of today are toxic lead-based materials, or polymers, meaning they are not environmentally and human body-friendly. Our new material, however, is completely biological, and therefore suitable for uses within the body. For example, a device made from this material may replace a battery that supplies energy to implants like pacemakers, though it should be replaced from time to time. Body movements—like heartbeats, jaw movements, bowel movements, or any other movement that occurs in the body on a regular basis—will charge the device with electricity, which will continuously activate the implant.”

The research was published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.


Commercial Nuclear Fusion Is Closer Than Ever

Nuclear fusion has been seen as the unattainable holy grail of clean energy for decades, but just in the last year it’s been seeming more and more within reach. As catastrophic climate change looms just over the horizon, the scientific community has galvanized to find more and better solutions to decarbonizing the global economy and replacing fossil fuels with a commercially viable, renewable, and green alternative. While much of the time and capital investment has flowed to more realistic options like solar and wind, some researchers have been dedicating their time and energy to capturing the energy of the sun here on earth–a silver bullet solution to global warming.

Conventional nuclear energy has also been hailed as a good, greenhouse gas emissions-free alternative to fossil fuels, but it has some major drawbacks, from the rare but catastrophic instance of nuclear meltdown to the industrial byproduct of nuclear waste. Nuclear fission, which is what nuclear energy plants currently use to create massive amounts of energy by splitting atoms, creates radioactive waste that remains hazardous for tens of thousands of years, if not longer.

The beauty of nuclear fusion is that, not only does it produce energy without creating radioactive waste since it can be achieved using only hydrogen or lithium, it’s also several times more powerful than fission. If we were ever able to harness it in a commercially viable way, it would mean the end of the oil-based economy as we know it. That’s why any news about nuclear fusion is major news. And in the past couple of years, there’s been a lot of new reports emerging about commercial nuclear fusion getting closer and closer to becoming a reality.

Last summer, reps from the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), an intergovernmental project headquartered in the south of France, reported that they are a mere six and a half years away from achieving first plasma inside their tokamak–in other words: nuclear fusion by just 2025. Then, just a month later in August, 2019, Oak Ridge National Laboratory reported their own nuclear fusion breakthrough, which uses novel implementation of AI and supercomputing to successfully scale up nuclear fusion experiments and manage plasma.

Then, in October, the Los Alamos National Laboratory‘s Plasma Liner Experiment (PLX) unveiled a totally new approach to nuclear fusion, using the very science-fiction combination of plasma guns, magnets, and lasers. According to the American Physical Society, “the PLX machine combines aspects of both magnetic confinement fusion schemes (e.g. tokamaks) and inertial confinement machines like the National Ignition Facility (NIF). The hybrid approach, although less technologically mature than pure magnetic or inertial confinement concepts, may offer a cheaper and less complex fusion reactor development path.” That project is projected to be up and running by the end of this year.

And now, just this week, there are new and exciting claims about yet another novel fusion technology to vie for the best path toward commercial nuclear fusion. Startup HB11, which has its impetus at Australia’s University of New South Wales (UNSW), has pioneered a technology that uses lasers to encourage nuclear fusion between hydrogen and boron without the use of radioactive materials to facilitate the reaction. They’re so confident about the technology that they have already applied for and received patents in the United States, Japan, and China.

The secret,” reports Popular Mechanics, “is a cutting-edge laser and, well, an element of luck.” According to managing director Warren McKenzie, as quoted by New Atlas,You could say we’re using the hydrogen as a dart, and hoping to hit a boron, and if we hit one, we can start a fusion reaction.” While this may sound a little wishy-washy, McKenzie says that the approach is actually more precise than using extreme heat to facilitate fusion because the laser is directed, whereas heat-based reactors waste huge amounts of energy heating up the entire reactor and waiting for a collision to take place.

This means that this new technology–which is now four decades in the making–could make machines like the tokamak obsolete. UNSW emeritus professor Heinrich Hora’s design “seeks to not just compete with but replace entirely the extremely high-temperature current technologies to achieve fusion. These include fussy and volatile designs like the tokamak or stellarator, which can take months to get up to functionality and still spin out of working order in a matter of microseconds.”

Last but not least, two months ago, Newsweek reported that China is about to start operation on its “artificial sun“—a nuclear fusion device that produces energy by replicating the reactions that take place at the center of the sun. If successful, the device could edge scientists closer to achieving the ultimate goal of nuclear fusion: near limitless, cheap clean energy.


Cheap Nano-Catalysts For Better Fuel Cells

Researchers at Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science & Technology (DGIST) in Korea have developed nano-catalysts that can reduce the overall cost of clean energy fuel cells, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Catalysis B: Environmental.

Polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) transform the chemical energy produced during a reaction between hydrogen fuel and oxygen into electrical energy. While PEMFCs are a promising source of clean energy that is self-contained and mobile – much like the alkaline fuel cells used on the US Space Shuttle – they currently rely on expensive materials. Also, the substances used for catalysing these chemical reactions degrade, raising concerns about reusability and viability.

DGIST energy materials scientist Sangaraju Shanmugam and his team have developed active and durable catalysts for PEMFCs that can reduce the overall manufacturing costs. The catalysts were nitrogen-doped carbon nanorods with ceria and cobalt nanoparticles on their surfaces; essentially carbon nanorods containing nitrogen, cobalt and ceria. Ceria (CeO2), a combination of cerium and oxygen, is a cheap and environmentally friendly semiconducting material that has excellent oxygen reduction abilities.

The fibres were made using a technique known as electrospinning, in which a high voltage is applied to a liquid droplet, forming a charged liquid jet that then dries midflight into uniform, nanosized particles. The researchers’ analyses confirmed that the ceria and cobalt particles were uniformly distributed in the carbon nanorods and that the catalysts showed enhanced electricity-producing capacity.

The ceria-supported cobalt on nitrogen-doped carbon nanorod catalyst was found to be more active and durable than cobalt-only nitrogen-doped carbon nanorods and platinum/carbon. They were explored in two important types of chemical reactions for energy conversion and storage: oxygen reduction and oxygen evolution reactions.

The researchers conclude that ceria could be considered among the most promising materials for use with cobalt on nitrogen-doped carbon nanorods to produce stable catalysts with enhanced electrochemical activity in PEMFCs and related devices.