Wednesday, February 14, 2007
An intersting article on New Scientist about the possibilities of adapting a protein found in the human ear (and not just in the ear, but in ear hair) to help provide power to spacesuits.
Astronauts' spacesuits may one day be covered in motion-sensitive proteins that could generate power from the astronauts' movement, according to futuristic research being conducted by a new lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US. Such "power skins" could also be used to coat future human bases on Mars, where they could produce energy from the Martian wind.Cool, no? The article then goes on to provide a bit of detail.
They are focusing on a protein called prestin, which is found in the outer hair cells of the human ear. In the cell membranes of these cells, prestin converts electrical voltage into motion, elongating and contracting the cell. This movement amplifies sound in the ear.Space suits covered in ear-hair proteins and microbes. Not quite a transsuit, but I dig it!
However, prestin can also work in reverse, producing electrical charges in response to mechanical stresses, such as tiny vibrations. Each protein is only capable of making nanowatts of electricity, but Matthew Silver and Kranthi Vistakula, both of IntAct Labs, believe that many proteins used together may be able to power small devices or help charge a battery.
In the short term, the researchers aim to prove their concept by using prestin to create a small vibration sensor that can generate a detectable charge.
But eventually, they say networks of the proteins could form 'power skins' to coat spacesuits or even buildings on the Red Planet, where gusts of wind would activate the proteins.
To increase conductivity, the researchers say they may even integrate certain types of microbes into the power skins. Geobacter bacteria sprout hair-like surface appendages, called pili, that have been shown to act as nano-wires capable of conducting electricity to an electrode (see Bacterial electronics). Their pili could similarly be used to transfer the electrons generated by prestin through the power skins, says Silver.