Are Virus-Powered Cellphones Around the Corner?

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/uafcde/112997902/sizes/m/in/photostream/">uafcde</a>/Flickr

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Anyone who’s had the flu knows viruses can be powerful. But scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are working on technology that will be able to harness that power to generate electricity.

Their research, published this month in Nature Nanotechnology, envisions a future in which viruses will help us take the energy from running, slamming doors, and climbing stairs and turn it into renewable energy we can use to power our gadgets. The project uses paper-thin generators covered in viruses (nice viruses, not the ones that make you sick) that can be implanted into places like our shoes. The viruses will take the mechanical energy generated by that motion, and convert to an electric charge. I’ll let the scientists explain:

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.

Their 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.

Piezoelectricity is already used to power small devices like electric cigarette lighters, the scientists note. But the current products require toxic chemicals, which makes them less appealing. Using viruses like the M13 bacteriophage, which is benign to people, is a much better option, for a number of reasons:

Being a virus, it replicates itself by the millions within hours, so there’s always a steady supply. It’s easy to genetically engineer. And large numbers of the rod-shaped viruses naturally orient themselves into well-ordered films, much the way that chopsticks align themselves in a box.

The scientists describe virus-powered generators that could be used to charge iPods, cellphones, e-readers, or other small personal devices. That would certainly bring new meaning to the term “going viral.”

Here’s a short video they made explaining the technology:

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate