It's the eternal question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? While Outliers can't claim to be able to answer such scientific conundrums, we do know how to shamelessly tie together two items for this week's columns. So from chickens we go to some recent research that could hatch a bit of renewable energy from eggs.
A team of scientists from the Bernal Institute at the University of Limerick in Ireland has observed that crystals of lysozyme, a protein plentiful in egg whites from birds and in the tears, saliva and milk of mammals, is capable of producing energy when pressed.
The method of generating electricity by applying pressure is called direct piezoelectricity and is a property of other materials like quartz, which can convert mechanical energy into electrical energy. Materials with this property are currently used in a variety of applications, including as vibrators for mobile phones, deep ocean sonars and ultrasound imaging.
"The extent of the piezoelectricity in lysozyme crystals is significant. It is of the same order of magnitude found in quartz," Aimee Stapleton, the lead author of the study and a postgraduate fellow in physics at the University of Limerick, said in a news release. "However, because it is a biological material, it is nontoxic so it could have many innovative applications such as electroactive, anti-microbial coatings for medical implants."
The team's discovery may lead to further research into energy harvesting and flexible electronics for biomedical devices.
Researchers speculate that future applications of the discovery may include controlling the release of drugs in the body by using lysozyme as a pump that sources energy from its surroundings.