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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Note on Emerging Science

Air Date: Week of March 20, 2009

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Scientists are tapping the energy of scurrying hamsters to generate electricity. Liz Gross reports.

Transcript

[SOUND OF HAMSTER WHEEL]

GROSS: We’ve all heard of horsepower – but hamster power? By just running around in their wheels, these furry little guys are making some big strides forward in renewable energy.

[THEME]

GROSS: A team of researchers and engineers at Georgia Tech used nanotechnology to convert the energy from a scurrying hamster into electricity.

This is not the first time biomechanical energy – the energy from the movement of humans and animals – has been harnessed. One nightclub in England recently installed an energy-generating dance floor, with lights powered by pounding feet. But what the Georgia Tech study shows - is that even small amounts of irregular movement, like a tapping finger, can be converted into electricity.

And hamsters are mini diesel engines of biomechanical energy. Anyone who’s ever tried to sleep in the same room as their pet hamster knows – the tiny rodents can happily run all night long.

To tap this energy, researchers outfitted the hamsters in yellow rodent-sized jackets with four nanogenerators attached. These nanogenerators contained zinc oxide wires a hundred times thinner than a human hair. As the hamster ran, the wires repeatedly flexed and released – producing a measurable electric current.

Measurable, yes. But small. The hamster’s jacket generated just half a nanoamp of current. At this rate, it would take a billion hamsters just to turn on your average 60-Watt light bulb.

In the future, the researchers envision powering BlackBerrys powered by our own fingers or implanted medical devices driven by pulsing blood vessels.

It will be years before this sort of technology is available. But – in the meantime, one engineer has given his hamster another green job – turning confidential documents into fresh bedding, with a hamster-powered paper shredder.

That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I’m Liz Gross.

 

 

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