Imagine charging your phone as you walk, thanks to a paper-thin generator embedded in the sole of your shoe. This futuristic scenario is now a little closer to reality. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have developed a way to generate power using harmless viruses that convert mechanical energy into electricity. The scientists tested their approach by creating a generator that produces enough current to operate a small liquid-crystal display. 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 generator is the first to produce electricity by harnessing the piezoelectric properties of a biological material. Piezoelectricity is the accumulation of a charge in a solid in response to mechanical stress. The milestone could lead to tiny devices that harvest electrical energy from the vibrations of everyday tasks such as shutting a door or climbing stairs. It also points to a simpler way to make microelectronic devices. That's because the viruses arrange themselves into an orderly film that enables the generator to work. Self-assembly is a much-sought-after goal in the finicky world of nanotechnology. The scientists describe their work in an article published on May 13, 2012 in 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 Dr. 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 Dr.
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