Blinking numbers on a liquid-crystal display (LCD) often indicate that a device’s clock needs resetting.  But in the laboratory of Zhong Lin Wang at Georgia Tech, the blinking number on a small LCD signals the success of a five-year effort to power conventional electronic devices with nanoscale generators that harvest mechanical energy from the environment using an array of tiny nanowires.

LCD powered by a nanogeneratorCompressing a nanogenerator between two fingers is enough to drive a liquid-crystal display. (Courtesy: Zhong Lin Wang)

In this case, the mechanical energy comes from compressing a nanogenerator between two fingers, but it could also come from a heartbeat, the pounding of a hiker’s shoe on a trail, the rustling of a shirt, or the vibration of a heavy machine.  While these nanogenerators will never produce large amounts of electricity for conventional purposes, they could be used to power nanoscale and microscale devices – and even to recharge pacemakers or iPods.

Wang’s nanogenerators rely on the piezoelectric effect.. Read More