University of Limerick scientists discover potential to produce electricity from tears

David Hurley

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David Hurley

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University of Limerick scientists discover potential to produce electricity from tears

John Sweeney, Aimee Stapleton and Vincent Casey from the Department of Physics and Bernal Institute at the University of Limerick | Picture: Sean Curtin

A TEAM of scientists based at the University of Limerick has discovered that applying pressure to a protein found in egg whites and tears can generate electricity.

The researchers from the Bernal Institute observed that crystals of lysozyme can generate electricity when pressed.  Their report has just been published in the journal, Applied Physics Letters.

The ability to generate electricity by applying pressure, known as direct piezoelectricity, is a property of materials such as quartz that can convert mechanical energy into electrical energy and vice versa.

Such materials are used in a variety of applications ranging from resonators and vibrators in mobile phones to deep ocean sonars and ultrasound imaging. 

“While piezoelectricity is used all around us, the capacity to generate electricity from this particular protein had not been explored. The extent of the piezoelectricity in lysozyme crystals is significant. It is of the same order of magnitude found in quartz,” explained Aimee Stapleton, the lead author of the report.

Crystals of lysozyme are easy to make from natural sources. “The high precision structure of lysozyme crystals has been known since 1965,” said structural biologist at UL and co-author of the report Professor Tewfik Soulimane.

The discovery by the UL researchers may have wide reaching applications and could lead to further research in the area of energy harvesting and flexible electronics for biomedical devices.

Professor Luuk van der Wielen, director of Bernal Institute and Bernal Professor of Biosystems Engineering and Design, expressed his delight at this breakthrough by scientists at the University of Limerick.

“The Bernal Institute has the ambition to impact the world on the basis of top science in an increasingly international context. The impact of this discovery in the field of biological piezoelectricity will be huge and Bernal scientists are leading from the front the progress in this field,” he said.