Sound Wave-powered Devices Possible

Imagine a self-powering cell phone that never needs to be charged because it converts sound waves produced by the user into the energy it needs to keep running. It’s not as far-fetched as it may seem thanks to the recent work of Tahir Cagin, a professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University.

Utilizing materials known in scientific circles as “piezoelectrics,” Cagin, whose research focuses on nanotechnology, has made a significant discovery in the area of power harvesting – a field that aims to develop self-powered devices that do not require replaceable power supplies, such as batteries.

Specifically, Cagin and his partners from the University of Houston have found that a certain type of piezoelectric material can covert energy at a 100 percent increase when manufactured at a very small size – in this case, around 21 nanometers in thickness.

What’s more, when materials are constructed bigger or smaller than this specific size they show a significant decrease in their energy-converting capacity, he said.

His findings, which are detailed in an article published this fall in “Physical Review B,” the scientific journal of the American Physical Society, could have potentially profound effects for low-powered electronic devices such as cell phones, laptops, personal communicators and a host of other computer-related devices used by everyone from the average consumer to law enforcement officers and even soldiers in the battlefield.

Many of these high-tech devices contain components that are measured in nanometers – a microscopic unit of measurement representing one-billionth of a meter. Atoms and molecules are measured in nanometers, and a human hair is about 100,000 nanometers wide.

Though Cagin’s subject matter is small, its impact could be huge. His discovery stands to advance an area of study that has grown increasingly popular due to consumer demand for compact portable and wireless devices with extended lifespans.

Battery life remains a major concern for popular mp3 players and cell phones that are required to perform an ever-expanding array of functions. But beyond mere consumer convenience, self-powering devices are of major interest to several federal agencies.

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