herald

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Don't dry your eyes just yet - Irish scientists discover way to turn tears into electricity

Bernal’s Luuk van der Wielen
Bernal’s Luuk van der Wielen

Irish scientists have discovered a method of producing electricity from tears.

Pressure is used to create energy from protein crystals found in the saliva, milk and tears of mammals, as well as the egg whites of birds.

It could revolutionise medical implants that release drugs into the body, researchers at the University of Limerick's Bernal Institute said.

Progress

"The impact of this discovery in the field of biological piezoelectricity will be huge, and Bernal scientists are leading from the front the progress in this field," said the Bernal Institute's Professor Luuk van der Wielen.

Piezoelectricity is a property of materials, such as quartz, that can convert mechanical energy into electricity and vice versa.

It is already used to create vibration in mobile phones and ultrasound imaging.

The capacity to generate electricity from this particular protein has not yet been explored.

Because it is a biological material, it is non-toxic and could have innovative applications involving medical implants, lead researcher Aimee Stapleton said.

The high-precision structure of lysozyme crystals has been known since 1965. They are easily made from natural sources.

"Crystals are the gold-standard for measuring piezoelectricity in non-biological materials," said Professor Tofail Syed, from the University's Physics Department.

"Our team has shown that the same approach can be taken in understanding this effect in biology."

Research

The team has been investigating simple fundamental building blocks creating piezoelectricity.

The discovery may have wide-reaching applications and could lead to further research into energy harvesting and flexible electronics for biomedical devices.

Future applications of the discovery may include controlling the release of drugs in the body, by using lysozyme as a pump that scavenges energy from its surroundings.

It may present an alternative to conventional piezoelectric energy harvesters, many of which contain toxic elements such as lead.

Promoted articles

Entertainment News