Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More
Electronics Powered by Fish Scales

Electronics Powered by Fish Scales


What should you do with stinky old fish skins? How about powering your cellphone? I’m Anna Rothschild, and this is Gross Science. No matter how much you love fish, you’ll
likely toss the skin. But why let a good thing go to waste? Turns out, a team of physicists has found
a way to make fish scales into tiny electrical generators. So, how does it work? Well, fish scales, along with bones, cartilage,
and tendons, are all made of a protein called collagen. Collagen is a “piezoelectric” material,
which means that it creates an electric charge in response to a mechanical stress, like pressure. You can tap it, slap it, squeeze it, breeze
it; no matter what, it’ll make electrical energy. You might’ve seen piezoelectricity at work
this summer; it’s what makes barbecue lighters spark. When you press the trigger, it strikes a piezoelectric
quartz crystal, which in turn generates high voltage that creates a spark and lights the
fuel. The cool thing about these materials is that
they work in reverse, too. Feeding a piezoelectric material electricity
can make it change its shape or vibrate. This is how the tiny speakers in those novelty
cards work. You open the card, close the circuit, and
send electricity to a piezoelectric diaphragm. It deforms its shape and vibrates at specific
frequencies, creating sound waves. But back to fish skins. To make a tiny generator, the team collects
carp scales from a processing plant. They take these scales and put them in a solution
that makes them flexible and transparent. Add electrodes and laminate the whole thing,
and you have a biodegradable energy harvester. Potential uses include small electronics that
you can bend, see through, and even eat. And it’s all because of fish skin. It’s basically the ultimate upcycling project! I should put that on my Pinterest board… Perhaps the coolest thing about the microgenerator
is its high sensitivity to pressure. Just tapping four of them can power 50 LEDs. It’s able to pick up mechanical energy from
ambient body movements, wind flow, and even sound vibrations. You could power your phone just by walking—no
charger needed. And because it’s made of collagen, the generator
could be “biocompatible.” That means it’s not harmful to living tissue,
like your skin or organs. After all, so much of your body is already
made of collagen. So, beyond handheld electronics, physicists
are exploring medical applications like insulin pumps or pacemakers. The tiny movement of your heart beating would
provide enough mechanical energy to keep the generator going. Which is super cool! … As long as you can get over having dead
fish parts in your body. Ew.

68 comments on “Electronics Powered by Fish Scales

  1. Why would it be gross to put dead fish skin in your body? We've been using dead pig parts for decades (heart valve replacements.)

  2. Anna is there any chance of obtaining one of these "fish-generators" or no? Because I was thinking of powering little moving devices (toy cars, etc).

  3. That's so cool! This is the first I remember herring about using fish scales for anything useful other than cheap armor, smelly cheap armor.

  4. Of all the components of an insulin pump, the battery is probably the least in need of improvement. They run for weeks on one AAA. If that suddenly wasn't enough, upgrading the unit to use to AA batteries would be far simpler than developing some tiny fish scale generator.

  5. I'd like to see these used to power smart watches like say a Fitbit, where it would track your steps and be powered at the same time.

  6. Ok, love the show. Now on to the question. I have often gone to a grocery stores meat and fish department. And smelled the odor of fish. Not a smell of fresh fish but decaying fish smell. What is this odor and why does it happen?

  7. I shall eat them all and become more powerful than all.  Bwhahaha.  Applying biorhythm and ultra sound for recharge for the next level.  Now lets talk about that awful display of animal cruelty in the background.  A unicorn's head on your mantle?  They are almost extinct all ready.  Shame.  (Actually, they are learning to convert the collagen in their horns into batteries to power lasers to rule the world.  Your days are numbered speciesist.)

  8. this topic is very interesting, I hope more people would look into it.
    I love your videos, some offers fresh insights on things that has been taken for granted. 🙂

  9. Thank you for the interesting video.Nature sure does things that never cease to amaze me.Not so gross but very engrossing just the same! Anna you rock,please keep up the interesting videos.

  10. Are they even really fish scales anymore? They were treated extensively to make them transparent and to accept current efficiently. They're analogous to the resemblance of a plastic bottle that was recycled into a plastic bag.

  11. I subbed. But, I am pretty annoyed that you think this is all 'gross'. Any professional would disagree and some would be offened.

  12. Love the show, and love that boot behind you, by the way, talking about fishes you could make a video about a metabolic disorder called Trimethylaminuria also known as fish odor syndrome. 🙂

  13. Hi, i'd like to know whether it is possible to do this experiment for a project. Can it work with other kinds of fish or is it specific to that indian fish with which the research was conducted?

  14. "as long as you can tolerate having dead fish parts in your body"
    is that not what happens when you eat fish anyway?

  15. The energy has to come from somewhere. So walking would be slightly more tiring because it's taking some of that energy to power the generator.

  16. Wow so you could turn humans into batteries!

    Wait wait wait. I saw this movie… it didn't turn out too well for the humans.

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