Nanogenerators: Tiny Tech, Big Questions

By: Staff

The "nano" in nanotechnology suggests that the components inside can be measured in nanometers. How long is a nanometer?

A nanometer (nm) is one billionth of a meter. To put this in perspective, a human hair is about 60,000 nm in diameter.

What term is used to describe a material that generates an electric current just by bending or it?

A piezoelectric substance has a molecular structure that causes electrons to move through it when it's bent or stretched. Lead zirconate titanate (PZT) and zinc oxide (ZnO) are two examples of piezoelectric materials.

True or false: Researchers have been able to get the same output from nanogenerators as from a pair of AA batteries.

Z.L. Wang and his research team at Georgia Tech were able to stack five nanogenerators together to produce about 3 volts of electricity, or about the same as a pair of AA batteries (which are 1.5 volts each).

How did researchers Michael McAlpine and Prashant Purohit overcome the problem with the piezoelectric material PZT being extremely brittle?

McAlpine, Purohit, and their colleagues created nanoribbons on sheets of magnesium oxide, removed them with the help of phosphoric acid, and transferred them to a pre-stretched silicone rubber. When the rubber relaxed, the ribbons buckled into waves.

Zhong Lin (Z.L.) Wang of the Georgia Institute of Technology lead the first research group to build nanogenerators from which piezoelectric material?

In 1999, Wang's lab began using ZnO to build nanowires. Since then, Wang has demonstrated continued improvements in nanogenerators using ZnO.

Researcher Michael McAlpine of Princeton has developed nanogenerators using which piezoelectric material?

McAlpine's group, along with Prahant Purohit's group at the University of Pennsylvania, have concentrated on using PZT in nanogenerators.

How wide is a single nanowire made from zinc oxide?

Z.L. Wang and his team at Georgia Tech grow their own ZnO nanowires, measuring 100 to 300 nanometers each in diameter.

True or false: Nanogenerators turn a renewable resource into electricity.

Nanogenerators use kinetic energy from human body movement to stimulate the flow of electrons in their piezoelectric components.

How long is a single nanowire made from zinc oxide?

Z.L. Wang and his team at Georgia Tech grow their own ZnO nanowires, measuring 100 microns in length, or about the same as the width of two human hairs. One micron (one millionth of a meter) equals 1,000 nanometers (one billionth of a meter).

What kinds of devices has Z.L. Wang's team powered with nanogenerators?

Though his group hasn't (as of this writing) demonstrated powering any commercial hand-held products, Wang is confident that nanogenerators will be available for commercial products within a few years.

Will nanogenerators be able to replace the need for batteries in hand-held electronics?

Since nanogenerators require some constant mechanical movement to continue generating electricity, people will still likely want to use batteries for electronic devices that need to run even when they aren't in active use, such as a mobile phone in your purse or knapsack.

True or false: Even the most complex and powerful nanogenerators are small enough to hold between your thumb and index fingers.

A single nanogenerator that you can hold in your fingers might have millions of nanowires inside, ready to produce electricity with a simple squeeze.

The substrate is the surface on which the nanogenerator's circuit is etched. What important property must a nanogenerator's substrate posess in order to work properly?

A nanogenerator works by bending or stressing it, so the substrate must be flexible enough to allow for bending or stretching indefinitely without breaking.

True or false: Within the next five years, you might be able to purchase a hoodie that uses your heartbeat to power your iPod or mobile phone.

Researchers are confident that nanogenerators will be in consumer products within the next five years, including clothing that generates power from your involuntary body movements such as your pulse or breathing.

What's the name of the science and technology that deals with research and development of incredibly small man-made objects?

Researchers in nanotechnology have developed microscopic innovations like nanogenerators.

What's the full chemical name for the piezoelectric material known as PZT?

The abbreviation PZT is more a reference to its chemical formula than its name. PZT includes elements lead (Pb), zirconium (Zr), and titanium (Ti), plus oxygen (O).

How long is a micron?

A micron is another name for a micrometer, or one millionth of a meter. A nanometer (one billionth of a meter) is 1,000 times smaller, making 1 micron = 1,000 nm.

How wide are the PZT nanoribbons created by researchers McAlpine and Purohit?

The PZT nanoribbons are 10 microns wide, or about 10,000 nm, and 250 to 500 nm thick. That's 50 times wider than Wang's ZnO nanowires, though the nanoribbon thickness isn't much more than the nanowires.

True or false: Nanogenerators require an initial power source, such as a battery, before they can run on their own.

All electricity generated by a nanogenerator is initiated from the piezoelectric components inside. Perhaps, though, rechargeable batteries could be used to store any nanogenerated power that isn't immediately used by an electronic device.

What important feature of zinc oxide (ZnO) makes it an ideal choice as the piezoelectric material in nanogenerators for implanted medical devices?

An implanted medical device, such as a pacemaker, has to be compatible with the human body. ZnO is non-toxic; it is not likely to cause any adverse reaction in human tissue.

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About This Quiz

Nanogenerators can turn subtle body movements like your heartbeat into power for electronic devices. Think you have what it takes to power through our nanogenerator quiz?

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