Scientists can now produce electricity from tears

October 2, 2017, University of Limerick
Aimee Stapleton, Irish Research Council EMBARK Postgraduate fellow at University of Limerick, Ireland and lead author of The Direct Piezoelectric Effect in the Globular Protein Lysozyme published in Applied Physics Letters, October 2017. Credit: Sean Curtin, TrueMedia.

A team of Irish scientists has discovered that applying pressure to a protein found in egg whites and tears can generate electricity. The researchers from the Bernal Institute, University of Limerick (UL), Ireland, observed that crystals of lysozyme, a model protein that is abundant in egg whites of birds as well as in the tears, saliva and milk of mammals can generate electricity when pressed. Their report is published today (October 2) in the journal, Applied Physics Letters.

The ability to generate electricity by applying pressure, known as direct piezoelectricity, is a property of materials such as quartz that can convert mechanical energy into electrical energy and vice versa. Such materials are used in a variety of applications ranging from resonators and vibrators in mobile phones to deep ocean sonars to ultrasound imaging. Bone, tendon and wood are long known to possess piezoelectricity.

"While piezoelectricity is used all around us, the capacity to generate electricity from this particular protein had not been explored. The extent of the piezoelectricity in crystals is significant. It is of the same order of magnitude found in quartz. However, because it is a biological material, it is non toxic so could have many innovative applications such as electroactive, anti-microbial coatings for medical implants," explained Aimee Stapleton, the lead author and an Irish Research Council EMBARK Postgraduate Fellow in the Department of Physics and Bernal Institute of UL.

Crystals of lysozyme are easy to make from natural sources. "The high precision structure of has been known since 1965," said structural biologist at UL and co-author Professor Tewfik Soulimane. "In fact, it is the second protein structure and the first enzyme structure that was ever solved," he added, "but we are the first to use these crystals to show the evidence of piezoelectricity".

The authors of The Direct Piezoelectric Effect in the Globular Protein Lysozyme (L to R) John Sweeney, Aimee Stapleton and Vincent Casey of University of Limerick. Credit: Sean Curtin, TrueMedia.

According to team leader Professor Tofail Syed of UL's Department of Physics, "Crystals are the gold-standard for measuring piezoelectricity in non-biological materials. Our team has shown that the same approach can be taken in understanding this effect in biology. This is a new approach as scientists so far have tried to understand piezoelectricity in biology using complex hierarchical structures such as tissues, cells or polypeptides rather than investigating simpler fundamental building blocks".

The discovery may have wide reaching applications and could lead to further research in the area of 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 physiologically mediated pump that scavenges energy from its surroundings. Being naturally biocompatible and piezoelectric, lysozyme may present an alternative to conventional piezoelectric energy harvesters, many of which contain toxic elements such as lead.

Aimee Stapleton, IRC EMBARK Postgraduate Fellow at University of Limerick and lead author of The Direct Piezoelectric Effect in the Globular Protein Lysozyme published on October 2 in Applied Physics Letters. Credit: Sean Curtin, True Media.

Professor Luuk van der Wielen, Director of Bernal Institute and Bernal Professor of Biosystems Engineering and Design expressed his delight at this breakthrough by UL scientists. "The Bernal Institute has the ambition to impact the world on the basis of top science in an increasingly international context. The impact of this discovery in the field of biological will be huge and Bernal scientists are leading from the front the progress in this field," he said.

The full paper, The Direct Piezoelectric Effect in the Globular Protein Lysozyme, by Aimee Stapleton, Mohamed R Noor, John Sweeney, Vincent Casey, Andrei Kholkin, Christophe Silien, Abbasi A. Gandhi, Tewfik Soulimane and Syed A M Tofail, is published in Applied Physics Letters (October 02, 2017).

Explore further: Graphene's piezoelectric promise

More information: A. Stapleton et al, The direct piezoelectric effect in the globular protein lysozyme, Applied Physics Letters (2017). DOI: 10.1063/1.4997446

Related Stories

Graphene's piezoelectric promise

January 5, 2012

Engineers predict that graphene can be coaxed into acting piezoelectric, merely by punching triangular holes into the material.

The origin of ultrahigh piezoelectric response

January 10, 2017

All ferroelectric materials possess a property known as piezoelectricity in which an applied mechanical force can generate an electrical current and an applied electrical field can elicit a mechanical response. Ferroelectric ...

Squeezed crystals deliver more volts per jolt

January 30, 2008

A discovery by scientists at the Carnegie Institution has opened the door to a new generation of piezoelectric materials that can convert mechanical strain into electricity and vice versa, potentially cutting costs and boosting ...

Fish 'biowaste' converted to piezoelectric energy harvesters

September 6, 2016

Large quantities of fish are consumed in India on a daily basis, which generates a huge amount of fish "biowaste" materials. In an attempt to do something positive with this biowaste, a team of researchers at Jadavpur University ...

Recommended for you

Compelling evidence for small drops of perfect fluid

December 10, 2018

Nuclear physicists analyzing data from the PHENIX detector at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC)—a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science user facility for nuclear physics research at Brookhaven National ...

Supercomputers without waste heat

December 10, 2018

Generally speaking, magnetism and the lossless flow of electrical current ("superconductivity") are competing phenomena that cannot coexist in the same sample. However, for building supercomputers, synergetically combining ...

Engineers invent groundbreaking spin-based memory device

December 7, 2018

A team of international researchers led by engineers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have invented a new magnetic device to manipulate digital information 20 times more efficiently and with 10 times more stability ...

Multichannel vectorial holographic display and encryption

December 7, 2018

Holography is a powerful tool that can reconstruct wavefronts of light and combine the fundamental wave properties of amplitude, phase, polarization, wave vector and frequency. Smart multiplexing techniques (multiple signal ...

6 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

dirk_bruere
5 / 5 (1) Oct 02, 2017
Maybe we can wire up Third World orphans and whip them so their tears can power our iPhones. Or even better, whip the people who make our iPhones.
MR166
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 02, 2017
Things are looking good here. Perhaps all of the snowflakes in our colleges can produce something useful with their angst. They can put collection trays in all of the safe spaces.
Guy_Underbridge
not rated yet Oct 03, 2017
sad
dirk_bruere
not rated yet Oct 03, 2017
The title of this article is just asking for it
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Oct 03, 2017
Moderator, can we get rid of the snide unidentified commenters and allow only peer-reviewed authors (like me) to comment?


You call a solid 1.3 voter average a 'peer review'?
Well...In that case I guess you didn't pass it.
TechnoCreed
not rated yet Oct 03, 2017
This research has been fully funded by the Monster Inc Power Company. https://www.youtu...KHcHadLM

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.