Hamsters can seemingly run forever inside their little wheels, and scientists from Georgia Tech are finally helping them get somewhere.
To harness hamster power, the scientists sewed electricity-generating threads one-fiftieth the width of a human hair into a yellow jacket worn by the hamsters as they ran. A human-sized jacket, capable of powering an iPod, could be ready in as little as three years.
"This can totally be scaled up," said Zhong Lin 'ZL' Wang, who co-authored a paper describing the research in this month's issue of Nano Letters. "This is just the first step. The idea is that we would harvest energy from any body movement, from walking, breathing, from any kind of vibration."
The jacket's tiny threads are really nanowires made of zinc oxide, the same white stuff smeared on the noses of lifeguards. When the nanowires are flexed, a small amount of electricity is generated.
A zinc oxide wire is one micron wide and 50 microns long. One wire sewed into the hamster jacket generates about 0.1 volts of electricity. According to Wang, this is the world's first example of an animal producing power using nanopiezoelectrics -- a field of research that aims to capture tiny amounts of energy from movement and vibration, and transform it into usable power.