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3D printers make batteries the size of a grain of sand

Written by: Captain Skellett // June 19th, 2013 // No Comments » // Recent Research

A 3D printer made this battery. It's smaller than a grain of sand. Credit: Ke Sun, Teng-Sing Wei, Jennifer Lewis, Shen J. Dillon

A 3D printer made this battery. It’s as small as a grain of sand. Credit: Ke Sun, Teng-Sing Wei, Jennifer Lewis, Shen J. Dillon

A battery the size of a grain of sand has been built using 3D printers, scientists announced yesterday.

It’s the century of smalls, where tiny devices are top dog. Computers shrink into tablets, phones are limited only by screen size, and mini-microphones can fit onto a pair of spectacles or atop a tiny flying robot. Why not? If you’re going to bug someone, you may as well use a robot bug.

As microchips become more and more micro, one thing holding us back is the battery. To get a decent battery life, you still need a rather large and heavy battery. Even my humble Nokia (circa 2002, still works like a charm) is half as heavy if you take out the battery. Think how light my pocket could be with a better battery!

Light pockets are one thing, a light heart is another.

Pace makers depend on lithium iodine-polyvinylpyride batteries, and they must be reliable and long-lasting.

“The battery occupies major portion of the pulse generator in terms of weight, volume, and size. The most important factor for a cardiac pacemaker battery is its reliability. Unlike many consumer products, batteries in implantable devices cannot be replaced. They are hard wired at the time of manufacture before the device is hermetically sealed… In general the power source of the implantable device is the only component which has a known predictable service life, which in turn determines the service life of the implanted device itself.” – Mallela, Ilankumaran & Rao “Trends in Cardiac Pacemaker Batteries” Indian Pacing and Electrophysiology Journal.

Don’t get me wrong, batteries have come a long way over the past twenty years. But there’s always more juice to be squeezed, and when it comes to juicy technology you can’t go past the 3D printer.

To make the sand-sized batteries, a team from Harvard University and the University of Illinois printed layers of concentrated lithium oxide-based inks. The 3D printer squeezed out tightly interlacing anodes (red) and cathodes (purple) using a nozzle finer than a human hair. The ink hardened as it was placed. Then they enclosed the stacks of electrodes in a container and filled it with an electrolyte solution.

The tiny battery was built with interlacing stacks of anode and cathode. Credit: Ke Sun, Bok Yeop Ahn, Jennifer Lewis, Shen J. Dillon

The tiny battery was built with interlacing stacks of anode and cathode. Credit: Ke Sun, Bok Yeop Ahn, Jennifer Lewis, Shen J. Dillon

Tests showed some impressive results for battery performance.

“The electrochemical performance is comparable to commercial batteries in terms of charge and discharge rate, cycle life and energy densities. We’re just able to achieve this on a much smaller scale,” Researcher Shen J. Dillon, University of Illinois, said in the press release.

Tiny and powerful batteries could make all sorts of new devices possible. Medical devices used not just for treating illness, but also for sensing infection or blood sugar levels, perhaps. Iron Man suits, now that would be exciting. And wafer-thin laptops, tablets and phones. Maybe I’ll wait until these new batteries hit the market before I update my Nokia…

The research was published in Advanced Materials yesterday, and here’s a video of the 3D printer in action.

ResearchBlogging.org Sun, K., Wei, T., Ahn, B., Seo, J., Dillon, S., & Lewis, J. (2013). 3D Printing of Interdigitated Li-Ion Microbattery Architectures Advanced Materials DOI: 10.1002/adma.201301036

Astronaut sings Bowie’s Space Oddity – on the International Space Station

Written by: Captain Skellett // May 19th, 2013 // No Comments » // Just for Fun

How cool is this? Astronaut Chris Hadfield sings Space Oddity from the International Space Station. He is floating in a most peculiar way, as the guitar spins in front of him.

In another video he talks about having to re-learn guitar in zero gravity, as his brain had to adjust for the lack of weight in his arm. At first, he would overshoot the frets because his arm felt weightless. Plus he would bumping into things while playing.

Chris Hadfield has 17 videos in his YouTube account, showing why you can’t cry in space (well, you can, but it just pools in your eye) and shaking up a can of coke while living on the ocean floor.

Congratulations to The Tesla Science Centre – it’s going to happen!

Written by: Captain Skellett // May 10th, 2013 // No Comments » // Science Communication

What a handsome chap! Tesla aged 36, photo by Napoleon Sarony.

What a handsome chap! Tesla aged 36, photo by Napoleon Sarony.

I was so pleased to see on The Oatmeal this morning that the Tesla Science Centre will be going ahead – they’ve purchased the land where Nikola Tesla’s old laboratory stood and still have $800,000 in the bank to start cleaning it up and building the interactive museum.

This is the best crowd-funded campaign I’ve ever seen, mostly thanks to The Oatmeal. If you haven’t seen The Oatmeal’s web comics, well hurry over and find out why Tesla was the greatest geek who ever lived.

To put it briefly: Tesla was genius who wanted to give all his inventions away for free, his story ended really sadly Edison took advantage of him, stole his ideas and refused to pay him, destroyed generators and blocked Tesla’s project to provide free wireless energy. That’s right. Free. Power. Wirelessly. We could have that right now if Edison wasn’t such a jerk.

And to top it all off – history has mostly forgotten him. Just like it has forgotten Alfred Wallace, who worked out the Origin of Species at the same time as Darwin – from the jungles of the Malay Archipelago. On that subject, I highly recommend watching “Bill Bailey’s Jungle Adventure,” which follows his magnificent adventures catching flying frogs and malaria.

Tesla demonstrates wireless power.

Tesla demonstrates wireless power.

Well, he’s forgotten no more. A museum will boldly stand where Tesla was planning his wireless communication and energy transmission tower in Shoreham, New York.

Now that the land has been purchased, there’s a massive clean-up underway. Apparently there are believed to be tunnels underground that might contain some of Tesla’s original experiments, so they’ll need to be secured and explored. There are also rumours of a giant underground resonance chamber…

To celebrate, there’s hopefully going to be an event in New York over the Summer – with more details to be posted on The Oatmeal as they’re confirmed. I would go, if getting to New York was a remote possibility for me, because The Oatmeal owns a Tesla coil and is going to fry up bacon sandwiches with 20,000 volts of pure, unadulterated science awesome.

It will take time and more funds before the Science Centre is open for business, and be sure I’ll blog about it when it is.

Congratulations to the not-for-profit Tesla Science Centre who are now the proud owners of the site. In the words of The Oatmeal:

“Mr Tesla. We’re sorry humanity forgot about you for a little while. We still love you. Here’s a goddamn museum.”

Check out the happy news on The Oatmeal for more information and to donate or volunteer.

Shape-shifting devices, gadgets for the future

Written by: Captain Skellett // April 29th, 2013 // 1 Comment » // Recent Research

I’ve always wanted a computer that would fold up like a newspaper. I could sit on a bench and open it to read, then close it up and cram into a bag. It wouldn’t be backlit like a computer screen, just a soothing paper-like display. There’s something lacking in e-readers today that look terribly phoney. As in, they look like giant phones or tablets. I want one like a book, an extremely lightweight paperback.

That’s been the dream since before iPhone’s were released, and it looks like it’s a step closer now. New prototypes for shape-shifting mobile devices were unveiled today at the Computer-Human Interaction Conference CHI2013 in Paris. They transform on demand, bending up to hide personal information or curving around to make a console for playing games. The press release says they can even curl into a stress ball, which doesn’t sound very healthy for a smart phone, though I can imagine it might come in handy.

Here’s a nifty video of the “Morphees” in action.

There are a few different ways the researcher’s achieved this kind of movement. Some prototypes used wires attached to motors that pulled and pushed them. Others used memory wire, which reverts to its original shape when heated by running a current through the wire.

The research was led by Dr Anne Roudaut and Professor Sriram Subramanian from the University of Bristol. They have also introduced a new metric to help guide the developing industry – “shape resolution.” Like screen resolution, shape resolution allows different devices to be compared easily, measuring the ability to stretch, bend, curve and so on.

On a related note, researcher Roel Vertegaal from Queen’s University is working on thinfilm phones, called the world’s first paper computer. The work was presented at the same conference, CHI, in 2011. Here’s a quick video. Looks incredible.

Pretty keen to head over to the next CHI conference, which is in Toronto on April 26, 2014. Though it might be easier to get to the 2015 one in Asia, as it’s a bit closer to Australia. For more info on the conferences, check out the Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction.

Happy fourth blogaversary

Written by: Captain Skellett // April 22nd, 2013 // No Comments » // Jibber Jabber

Sorry for the unscheduled downtime last week, all the issues have been sorted now (I think) and we’re back! Just in time for… A Schooner of Science’s fourth birthday! Hooray!

Happy birthday blog! Credit: Captain Skellett. License CC BY 3.0

Happy birthday blog! Credit: Captain Skellett. License CC BY 3.0

If you want to help me celebrate, why not buy me a beer? To date, the Schooner has been running on dreams and tap water, but I received a comment just recently from someone who wanted to donate to the blog. I was floored! Such kindness! So I’ve added a PayPal donation box in the right hand column to help A Schooner of Science stay afloat. Each beer purchased will improve the quality of this blog, by lubricating the brain and bubbling the soul (not to mention offsetting server costs). Cheers!

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