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Irish scientists can now produce electricity from tears

The researchers in UL also found they could generate electricity from a protein found in egg whites and the milk of mammals.

Image: True Media

A TEAM OF Irish scientists has discovered a method of generating electricity from a protein found in tears and egg whites.

The researchers from the Bernal Institute in the University of Limerick (UL) observed that crystals of lysozyme, a model protein that is abundant in bird egg whites, tears and the milk of mammals, can generate electricity when pressed.

Their report on the discovery was published earlier today in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

The ability to generate electricity  by applying pressure is known as direct piezoelectricity. It is a property of materials such as quartz that can convert mechanical energy into electrical energy and vice versa. These materials are used in a variety of applications ranging from resonators and vibrators in mobile phones to deep ocean sonars and 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 lysozyme 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 it could have many innovative applications such as electroactive anti-microbial coatings for medical implants,” commented lead author Aimee Stapleton.

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UL Electricity from tears 041 John Sweeney, Aimee Stapleton and Vincent Casey from the Department of Physics and Bernal Institute of UL Source: Sean Curtin/True Media

Scientists said 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, they said.

“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 piezoelectricity will be huge and Bernal scientists are leading from the front the progress in this field,” commented Professor Luuk van der Wielen, Director of the Bernal Institute.

Read: ‘Brain drain’: 25,000 graduates left Ireland to work abroad in 12 months>

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