The Rise Of The Cyborg

Researchers from UCLA and the University of Connecticut have designed a new biofriendly energy storage system called a biological supercapacitor, which operates using charged particles, or ions, from fluids in the human body. The device is harmless to the body’s biological systems, and it could lead to longer-lasting cardiac pacemakers and other implantable medical devices like artificial heart.

The UCLA team was led by Richard Kaner, a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and of materials science and engineering, and the Connecticut researchers were led by James Rusling, a professor of chemistry and cell biology. A paper about their design was published this week in the journal Advanced Energy Materials.

Pacemakers — which help regulate abnormal heart rhythms — and other implantable devices have saved countless lives. But they’re powered by traditional batteries that eventually run out of power and must be replaced, meaning another painful surgery and the accompanying risk of infection. In addition, batteries contain toxic materials that could endanger the patient if they leak.

The researchers propose storing energy in those devices without a battery. The supercapacitor they invented charges using electrolytes from biological fluids like blood serum and urine, and it would work with another device called an energy harvester, which converts heat and motion from the human body into electricity — in much the same way that self-winding watches are powered by the wearer’s body movements. That electricity is then captured by the supercapacitor.

Combining energy harvesters with supercapacitors can provide endless power for lifelong implantable devices that may never need to be replaced,” said Maher El-Kady, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher and a co-author of the study.


Solar Energy Cost-Competitive with Fossil Fuels?

A novel fabrication technique developed by the University of ConnecticutUConn could provide the breakthrough technology scientists have been looking for to vastly improve today’s solar energy systems.The technology would be a vast improvement over the silicon solar panels. Even the best silicon panels collect only about 20 percent of available solar radiation, and separate mechanisms are needed to convert the stored energy to usable electricity for the commercial power grid. The panels’ limited efficiency and expensive development costs have been two of the biggest barriers to the widespread adoption of solar power as a practical replacement for traditional fossil fuels.
But while nanosized antennas have shown promise in theory, scientists have lacked the technology required to construct and test them. The fabrication process is immensely challenging. The nano-antennas – known as “rectennas” because of their ability to both absorb and rectify solar energy from alternating current to direct current – must be capable of operating at the speed of visible light and be built in such a way that their core pair of electrodes is a mere 1 or 2 nanometers apart, a distance of approximately one millionth of a millimeter. Nanosized antenna arrays are theoretically capable of harvesting more than 70 percent of the sun’s electromagnetic radiation and simultaneously converting it into usable electric power.
The potential breakthrough lies in a novel fabrication process called selective area atomic layer deposition (ALD) that was developed by Willis, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UConn. Willis developed the ALD process while teaching at the University of Delaware, and patented the technique in 2011.


Nanotechnology To Fight Landmines

Using nanotechnologies, Ying Wang, chemical engineering doctoral student  at the University of Connecticut, has presented a research  to help in improving the detection of landmines.  Working in conjunction with her advisor, associate professor Yu Lei, she has developed a prototype portable sensing system that can be used to detect hidden explosives like landmines accurately, efficiently, and at little cost. Each year, as many as 25,000 people are maimed or killed by landmines around the world, including large numbers of civilians. While landmines are inexpensive to produce – about $3-$30 each, depending on the model – finding and clearing them can cost as much as $1,000 per mine. Specially trained dogs are the gold standard, Metal detectors are good, but they are often too sensitive, causing lengthy and expensive delays..

Buried explosive detection system using a nanofiberous film and ultraviolet light. This image shows detection of particulate explosives on a contaminated hand using the novel electrospun pyrene film.

When I started working with landmines, I was thrilled,” says Wang, who receive her master’s degree in biochemical engineering from Xiamen University China –  in 2007. “I knew this would be a really good application of our work. It can save lives.”