Good Vibrations


By Phil DeSimone

Energy is all around us; it is constantly being exerted to power devices such as your computer screen, your car and even your own body generates and consumes energy. Typically, powering an electrical device involves the simple process of plugging a cord into the wall. The act is almost magical, but this old-fashioned trick may soon be replaced. Imagine the possibility of capturing energy efficiently and reusing it without the need of any messy and tangled wires!

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, more than half of the energy generated in America will be wasted, mainly as heat. New technologies are emerging to capture this energy that may otherwise be wasted. One advancing technology in particular is piezoelectricity. Piezoelectric sensors react to sound, vibration and movement. The piezoelectric sensors generally contain crystals and ceramics that send an electrical charge after being compressed. The most common crystal used is quartz (SiO2) due to its composition of positive and negative atoms. When quartz bends, the positive and negative atoms separate to create the electrical signal.

While you are walking, every step leaves energy behind. The idea is to capture this energy and convert it to electricity. This technology does not create a lot of power as of now, but it has the potential to change the future for small handheld devices and is already being used for biomedical devices and sensors. Touch screen phones incorporate piezoelectric sensors, and for upcoming development there is potential to charge your phone based off the movements it endures in your pocket throughout the day. Piezoelectric technology has also been integrated under the floors at dance clubs. As people dance, the floor absorbs that energy and the sensors send out the signal working as a generator. The more dancing that is being done, the more power that can be generated to display lights and provide music.

As technology continues to advance, there are plenty of possibilities to create clean energy. Everyday activities such as exercising on a treadmill or traveling to work in a bumpy vehicle can be providing sustainable energy. Some humans are capable of producing an output of 2,000 watts during a short sprint. Let us not rely on the use of batteries and wires that connect energy, but use ourselves to power the world.

Classroom Discussion

  • What are other activities that can be applied to produce energy by using piezoelectric sensors?
  • Do you think that this technology will actually be a big part of the future? Why or why not?