Scientists are able to turn stress into electricity

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Unless you’ve got superpowers, your stress probably doesn’t produce much more than anxiety and tears. However, scientists developed a new organic material that can now turn stress into electricity. The team from Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, created the thin new substance. It’s a rubbery material that generates electricity dependent upon movement.

How it Works — The Piezoelectric Effect

Thanks to the piezoelectric effect, the rubbery material works — a principle of how motion can produce electricity. The theory can seem foreign to others, but the result has been observed in reality by millions of people. That’s what happens when an analogue record player’s needle reads a disc grooves. These movements of the needle are converted into electrical impulses by the piezoelectric effect, and those impulses are then translated into sound waves. The piezoelectric effect at its most fundamental level is how mechanical motions produce energy, and then how to use the energy elsewhere.

While the plastic-looking substance doesn’t seem anything we’ve seen before with the effect, many other researchers praise it for pushing the limits of previous understanding of the piezoelectric effect. Common perception was limited to crystal-like, rigid structures. Yet Dorina Opris and her Empa team were searching for something quite new.

Making the Rubber

The rubber consists of a plastic resin and an elastomer formed from polar nanoparticles. In their concept the team used silicone. The content was primarily created for Empa student Yee Song Ko, a PhD student. Before linking these, he formed the composite materials and the elastomer. Using a powerful electrical field, Song Ko needed to establish an inner polarisation.

The team heated the film until the nanoparticles migrated from a solid, glassy state to a mildly viscous, rubbery one. This allowed the researchers to control the polarity, and hence the electric field. Researchers then ‘solidated’ the field orientation by cooling the film down to room temperature.

How it Could Shape the Future

Ultimately, researchers expect the substance will be beneficial in any aspect of life — from robots to clothes and medical technology that people use to live like a pacemaker. The material would help the pacemakers to control themselves to replace the batteries without the need for invasive procedures. One of the most promising applications of this technology may be in advancing soft robotics and empowering robots to “see” their environment. The substance must be able to transmit impulses to the computer in order for a robotic machine to “understand” it.

However, it’s not just the film that could be used to teach robots to feel pain. Researchers from Leibniz University of Hannover in Germany developed an artificial nervous system that programmed a robot with the “insights from human pain research.” – Adapted from Interresting Engineering

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