Stress is one of those things that feels like it has no upside. It makes us sick, it makes our hair turn grey, or even fall out. In our hectic modern lives, stress is more and more prevalent, an everyday facet of everyday life. Also known as the flight or fight response, the stress response is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. This response is designed to keep us on our toes when we face danger – but now, that response is triggered by anything from a day at the office to being stuck in traffic.
Wouldn’t it be a treat if we could get some benefit out of all of that stress building up and raising our heartbeat, put it to some good use? Well, a group of scientists have created an organic material with the ability to transform stress into electricity. The group of researchers from Empa, the Swiss Federal Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, have created a material which generates electricity when it is faced with stress – in theory, this material could be used as a sensor, built into clothes or implanted in the body, to create and store power.
The technology is not exactly new – it was first discovered in crystals and has been used for a variety of purposes such as for sound pick-up on record player needles. The basic principle centres around converting mechanical m0vements into electrical charges, a process known as piezoelectricity. Until recently, this was only found within crystals and the piezoelectric effect has had limited practical use. That is, of course, until now.
The Empa researchers have managed to bestow elastomers with piezoelectric properties, creating a rubber-like film substance which creates energy from the application of mechanical stress. There are many practical applications for the substance, but most importantly it could be used to create pressure sensors. When the material is compressed, an electrical impulse is created, and this can be received by devices. One of the researchers explained that “this material could even be used to obtain energy from the human body.”
“You could implant it near the heart to generate electricity from the heartbeat, for instance.”
So, as your heartbeat rises with stress, this material could generate electricity from that increased muscle movement. You won’t need a portal phone charger when you can charge your phone from your body, hey?