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Thursday [30.11.17]3 min read

The power of tears

Have energy prices got you feeling a little down? Well let all those feels out and you may just have the answer to your own problem according to scientists out of Ireland, who have just discovered that a specific protein found in human tears can be used to generate electricity.

The protein in question is known as lysozyme, and is not only found in tears but in human saliva and egg whites. It is already used as a food additive given its antibacterial properties, but its new application as a source of electricity is slightly more intriguing.

As lead author of the study Aimee Stapleton found out, lysozyme essentially produces a small electrical charge when pressure is applied to it in a process known as piezoelectricity. Stapleton started with the protein in a powdered form before turning it into a solution and placing it on an electrode. As it dried, it crystalised and another electrode was placed on top to squeeze the crystals, generating a charge that was able to be measured using the electrodes.

Piezoelectricity

Piezoelectricity is a phenomenon not exclusive to lysozyme. In fact, other human material such as bone and tendon also possess this ability to generate electrical charge under pressure, as do things like wood, quartz and zinc. In terms of applying this kind of electricity to act as a legitimate power source, there have been many notable efforts. For example, a nightclub in Rotterdam has embedded piezoelectric materials into its dance floors, turning vibrations from dancing punters into electricity that powers lights within the club. Similar tech has been used at a number of Japanese rail stations that uses heavy foot traffic to power ticket stations.

Using your body as a personal power source

Using piezoelectricity, Canadian company Bionic Power develops wearable technology that charges batteries for military personnel through their ‘Power Walk’ knee strap. Soldiers strap the pads to their knees that then generate electricity from the knee’s rotational speed that occurs while walking. In fact, in just over the course of an hour, using two PowerWalk’s at a moderate walking pace can generate enough electricity to charge 4 smart phones.

Unfortunately, the days of turning on The Notebook to harvest some tears to charge your phone are a few years off according to Stapleton, who stated in an interview with Inverse that it will take some time to turn this discovery into working tech. However, the implications of this discovery could be a big deal for anyone who uses a medical device such as a pacemaker or cochlear implant – an application that piezoelectricity researchers have made somewhat of a holy grail in recent times.

Most of these devices rely on batteries that need to be replaced at some point. If they were powered by a piezoelectric material such as lysozyme however, there would be no need for batteries at all. In the case of a pacemaker for example, pressure created from heart vibrations could generate an electrical charge that could power the device.

So maybe crying can fix a broken heart after all.

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