|8 July 2016|

England

A team of scientists from Oxford University has shown how the natural movement of bacteria could be harnessed to assemble and power microscopic ‘windfarms’ – or other man-made micromachines such as smartphone components.

The study, published in the journal Science Advances, uses computer simulations to demonstrate that the chaotic swarming effect of dense active matter such as bacteria can be organised to turn cylindrical rotors and provide a steady power source.

Researchers say these biologically driven power plants could someday be the microscopic engines for tiny, man-made devices that are self-assembled and self-powered – everything from optical switches to smartphone microphones.

Co-author Dr Tyler Shendruk, from Oxford University’s Department of Physics, said: “Many of society’s energy challenges are on the gigawatt scale, but some are downright microscopic. One potential way to generate tiny amounts of power for micromachines might be to harvest it directly from biological systems such as bacteria suspensions.”

Fellow Co-author Dr Amin Doostmohammadi, from the same department, added: ‘The ability to get even a tiny amount of mechanical work from these biological systems is valuable because they do not need an input power and use internal biochemical processes to move around.

“At micro scales, our simulations show that the flow generated by biological assemblies is capable of reorganising itself in such a way as to generate a persistent mechanical power for rotating an array of microrotors.”