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Charging Electronic Devices With Static Electricity

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Scientists from the University at Buffalo in New York are looking into a common but mysterious phenomena — static electricity. Experts believe that this form of electricity could be one day utilized to power all sorts of electronic devices, provided we find out exactly how it works and functions. And a new study may shed some light on this strange occurrence.

Researchers believe that the actual cause of static electricity is due to small structural changes at the surface of materials. These changes arise when certain materials come into contact with each other, and friction occurs. Scientists believe this revelation could help in the design and creation of longer-lasting, sustainable power sources for many small electronic devices.

To achieve a better understanding of static electricity, researchers are conducting experiments on the triboelectric effect. This occurs when one material becomes charged after coming into contact via friction with another, different material. Although most people are familiar with this effect in their daily lives, little has been understood about it until recently. Thankfully, nanotechnology has given us the tools we need to achieve a deeper understanding of triboelectricity.

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“Nearly everyone has zapped their finger on a doorknob or seen child’s hair stick to a balloon. To incorporate this energy into our electronics, we must better understand the driving forces behind it.”

James Chen, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University at Buffalo

Scientists used a variety of techniques during their work to understand the different types of friction that can create static electricity. Thanks to a combination of physical experiments and extensive computer models, they are now in the process of creating triboelectric nanogenerators. These devices would be capable of harvesting — and even controlling — different types of static energy.

Researchers believe there is virtually no end to the different types of static electricity their technology could harness and control. The friction from your fingers and a smartphone screen, or the friction created simply by walking along the ground could be used to keep your small electronic devices powered on the go.

Next up, scientists will continue their extensive research on the topic of static electricity. Additionally, they will streamline their designs to control static electricity in various forms, and begin testing their new technology soon.

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