Researchers have developed a thin, flexible material that generates electricity when stretched or compressed.
This advance in technology may pave the way for smart clothing or self-powered pacemakers in the future.
• The specially designed rubber has been developed by researchers at Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology.
• The rubber is a composite material made of polar nanoparticles and an elastomer - silicone in the prototype.
• The material is able to convert mechanical movements into electrical charges.
• The trick behind the generated current is the internal polarisation which changes when the rubber film is mechanically stressed.
• The same effect is used in sound pick-ups on analogue record players where the needle is guided through the grooves in the record in such a way as to generate mechanical vibrations.
• In a piezoelectric crystal, these vibrations are converted into electrical impulses, which in turn can be amplified and transformed into sound waves.
• The piezoelectric effect was earlier only known for crystals and as they are heavy and solid, the effect could only be used in certain applications.
However, researchers have now succeeded in giving elastomers piezoelectric properties. The material is not though easy to produce.
Potential uses of the material
• It could be used to construct pressure sensors, for example If the material is compressed, an electrical impulse is produced that can be received and understood by devices.
• It can also be used to develop a novel type of control buttons.
• It can also be used to develop a sensitive skin for robots that can feel (pressure) touches.
• It might also be useful in clothing to either monitor the wearer's activities or generate electricity from their movements.
• It also has the potential to be used to obtain energy from the human body.
• It could power pacemakers or other implanted devices, eliminating the need for invasive operations to change the battery.