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Electronics Powered by Fish Scales


What should you do with stinky old fish skins? How about powering your cellphone? I’m Anna Rothschild, and this is Gross Science. No matter how much you love fish, you’ll
likely toss the skin. But why let a good thing go to waste? Turns out, a team of physicists has found
a way to make fish scales into tiny electrical generators. So, how does it work? Well, fish scales, along with bones, cartilage,
and tendons, are all made of a protein called collagen. Collagen is a “piezoelectric” material,
which means that it creates an electric charge in response to a mechanical stress, like pressure. You can tap it, slap it, squeeze it, breeze
it; no matter what, it’ll make electrical energy. You might’ve seen piezoelectricity at work
this summer; it’s what makes barbecue lighters spark. When you press the trigger, it strikes a piezoelectric
quartz crystal, which in turn generates high voltage that creates a spark and lights the
fuel. The cool thing about these materials is that
they work in reverse, too. Feeding a piezoelectric material electricity
can make it change its shape or vibrate. This is how the tiny speakers in those novelty
cards work. You open the card, close the circuit, and
send electricity to a piezoelectric diaphragm. It deforms its shape and vibrates at specific
frequencies, creating sound waves. But back to fish skins. To make a tiny generator, the team collects
carp scales from a processing plant. They take these scales and put them in a solution
that makes them flexible and transparent. Add electrodes and laminate the whole thing,
and you have a biodegradable energy harvester. Potential uses include small electronics that
you can bend, see through, and even eat. And it’s all because of fish skin. It’s basically the ultimate upcycling project! I should put that on my Pinterest board… Perhaps the coolest thing about the microgenerator
is its high sensitivity to pressure. Just tapping four of them can power 50 LEDs. It’s able to pick up mechanical energy from
ambient body movements, wind flow, and even sound vibrations. You could power your phone just by walking—no
charger needed. And because it’s made of collagen, the generator
could be “biocompatible.” That means it’s not harmful to living tissue,
like your skin or organs. After all, so much of your body is already
made of collagen. So, beyond handheld electronics, physicists
are exploring medical applications like insulin pumps or pacemakers. The tiny movement of your heart beating would
provide enough mechanical energy to keep the generator going. Which is super cool! … As long as you can get over having dead
fish parts in your body. Ew.

William Babineau

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