The prototype device uses a copper cantilever 2 centimeters long. Future nanofabricated versions could be smaller than one cubic millimeter.
Copyright © Cornell University
Beta particles (electrons) released from a thin film of radioactive material are absorbed by the cantilever, giving it a negative charge. The cantilever is pulled down toward the positively charged film until it is near enough for a current to flow and equalize the charge. The cantilever springs back up, and the process repeats.
Copyright © Cornell University
While electronic circuits and nanomachines grow ever smaller, batteries to power them remain huge by comparison, as well as short-lived. But now Cornell University researchers have built a microscopic device that could supply power for decades to remote sensors or implantable medical devices by drawing energy from a radioactive isotope.
The device converts the energy stored in the radioactive material directly into motion. It could directly move the parts of a tiny machine or could generate electricity in a form more useful for many circuits than has been possible with earlier devices. This new approach creates a high-impedance source (the factor that determines the amplitude of the current) better suited to power many types of circuits, says Amil Lal, Cornell assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.
Lal and Cornell doctoral candidate Hui Li described a prototype of the device at a U.S. Department of Defense meeting of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) investigators in Detroit in August. The prototype is the first MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) version of a larger device that Lal designed and built while a member of the faculty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, working with nuclear engineering professors James Blanchard and Douglas Henderson.
Bill Steele | EurekAlert!
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