Space and weight capacity are limited on a space shuttle. Some students are exploring ways that human movements can be used to generate power.
Every day we make hundreds of movements, all of which could be harnessed to generate energy for electronic devices: waving hello to someone, walking down the street, or bending down to tie your shoe.
Students participating in NASA's Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology (MUST) project imagined a spacesuit that uses astronauts' expended energy to run the suit's electronics. The team, comprising Hannah Clevenson, Olivia Lenz and Tanya Miracle, recently flew an experiment related to their nanotechnology research on a NASA reduced-gravity flight.
The team's experiment investigated the properties of zinc oxide nanowires produced in microgravity conditions and compared the results with the properties of zinc oxide nanowires produced in the laboratory. In particular, the team was interested in the effects of reduced-gravity on the morphology of the samples. Team member Olivia Lenz explains what they found and what it means for the future of space technologies:
"Basically, the material we developed is piezoelectric, which means that when you bend or strain it, you distort the crystal structure and cause a dipole to develop across the length of the material. Eventually, this dipole change can be harnessed and produce an electric current that can be used to charge a device like your iPod or cell phone by walking. This topic is important because it can allow members of the military out in the middle of nowhere to charge their electronics without needing the sun or a generator. Or, the same material could be integrated into spacesuits to help sustain the electronics astronauts carry on their person when on an EVA."
Chemical engineering student Tanya Miracle added that a second benefit of the team's zinc oxide nanowire research is the potential for improving consumer batteries. "Zinc oxide holds up to 10 times the charge of lithium, so potentially it could replace lithium used in batteries," Miracle said. "This could either produce smaller batteries that allow for the same amount of energy to be stored or a battery that is of the same size, but could last 10 times as long. The electric car industry could easily use this to their advantage."