When the battery dies in an artificial pacemaker, the patient has to go under the knife to get a replacement. Not for much longer, perhaps, as scientists have developed a flexible energy-harvesting device (pictured here on a cow’s heart) that converts the movement of organs into electrical energy, which is then stored in a rechargeable micro-battery. The device relies on thin ribbons of a man-made compound called lead zirconate titanate, which has a piezoelectric effect – meaning that it accumulates electrical charge in response to mechanical stress. When the bendy generator was tested in living cows, sheep and pigs, it generated enough juice to power a human pacemaker. For the moment, there are still concerns that the heart could be poisoned if the lead-containing compound leaks. But if scientists can find a non-toxic piezoelectric material with similar efficiency, the days of surgical procedures to change a battery may be numbered.
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.