It’s been all over the news, and I would be remiss in including it here — Rice University has created batteries that can be spray-painted onto a variety of surfaces, batteries would then allow a remarkably consistent power supply over a number of hours.
There are five layers to this battery, which lead author Neelam Singh describes as a battery “converted” into different paints. The image at the end of the Rice press release I’ve linked to has a pretty clear description of how that’s achieved — there is a cathode and an anode, held apart by a separator/electrolyte, and current collectors to divert the charge to the load. I did, in fact, have to brush up on my knowledge of battery operation through the HowStuffWorks article, but it has been a while since high school.
The process of slimming/transforming a battery down into its constituents in paint is impressive in itself, but the fact that it can be industrialized so easily is a huge boon. Singh presents a good example of a use-case: since the batteries can be charged easily with solar cells, they can be used as building materials, with solar cells on top to keep the batteries charged. There’s an entire house running on green energy, right there.
I’m also wondering if — when the low-oxygen requirement is factored into the process, and when the cost of production drops — these batteries can be used in more rural situations, or in third world countries perhaps. You wouldn’t be able to cover every house in solar cells and battery tiles, but you could perhaps establish one central charging station and supply it with emergency lights, phones and any other electronic devices. Even if the area can’t be hooked up to the central power grid, you’d have an independent source of electricity.
As part of my grand plan to read more intellectually, I’m (in parallel with The Elegant Universe) reading The First War of Physics: The Secret History of the Atom Bomb, 1939-1949 by Jim Baggott. It’s a mouthful of a name but the book is eminently readable, interspersed as it is with fact, historical reconstruction and some very human moments. I particularly like how the progression of the idea plays out — from “we’ve got fission!” by Lise Meitner to “this could be a dangerous weapon” and the development of the Manhattan Project.
It’s also interesting to trace how scientific constraints — and political leverage and ego — led to certain theoretical decisions, like the methods of generating sustainable nuclear fission, being taken over others.
I’m actually looking forward to the end of the project, with reactions to the bomb and the discovery that Oak Ridge was an atomic bomb testing facility. According to this article from The Atlantic, which has excellent, evocative photos, some of the equipment operators had no clue they were working on the most destructive machine in history.