Byung Yang Lee, Seung-Wuk Lee and Ramamoorthy Ramesh

Electricity goes viral

November 1, 2012
This article appeared in Berkeley Engineer magazine, Fall 2012

What if you could create electrical energy with the tap of a finger? Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have discovered a novel way to do just that.

Bioengineering professor Seung-Wuk Lee, materials science professor Ramamoorthy Ramesh and researcher Byung Yang Lee have developed a generator that uses genetically engineered viruses to convert mechanical energy into electricity. When a finger taps a small electrode coated with the viruses—which are harmless to people—the viruses transform that pressure into current.

Their generator makes enough power to run a small liquid-crystal display and is the first to utilize the piezoelectric properties of a biological material to produce electricity. The researchers hope this development will eventually lead to microelectronic devices that capture electrical energy from the movements of everyday activities, such as walking, climbing stairs or shutting a door.