Mars Power!

[Image: Courtesy of NASA/Pat Rawlings/SAIC, via New Scientist].

Proteins harvested from inside the human ear could soon power space stations on Mars.
“Astronauts’ spacesuits may one day be covered in motion-sensitive proteins that could generate power from the astronauts’ movement,” New Scientist reports. “Such ‘power skins’ could also be used to coat future human bases on Mars, where they could produce energy from the Martian wind.”
Surely, though, biomechanical protein coats like these would also be architecturally useful here on earth? On these shacks, for instance?

[Image: Courtesy of NASA/John J. Olson, via New Scientist].

To make this work, then, researchers in Cambridge, MA, have been “focusing on a protein called prestin, which is found in the outer hair cells of the human ear. In the cell membranes of these cells, prestin converts electrical voltage into motion, elongating and contracting the cell. This movement amplifies sound in the ear. However, prestin can also work in reverse, producing electrical charges in response to mechanical stresses, such as tiny vibrations.”
Stunningly, Northwestern University actually “patented the prestin molecule in 2003,” claiming, as they did so, that prestin “may be 10,000 times more efficient at generating power than the best manmade material.” Ironically, of course, prestin is, in a way, manmade?
In any case, if I clean my ears and damage some prestin molecules, do I owe Northwestern University money?
And what happens if you wake up one day to find that someone has patented your hands? Perhaps someday we’ll read about the Laboratory of Patented Anatomy – housed, yes, at Northwestern University.

3 thoughts on “Mars Power!”

  1. This sounds a lot like a piezoelectric.

    Piezoelectrics are absolutely fascinating materials that we thought we understood pretty well, until a few years ago when we discovered new materials that work thousands of times better (and we haven’t got a clue why…)

    That said, I haven’t heard anything about biological materials being used for this purpose…. very cool.

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