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Home > News > A Tour of the Energy Future

January 26th, 2007

A Tour of the Energy Future

Most amazing of all was Professor Angela Belcher, a young genius who is teaching bugs how to become batteries — in other words, she's genetically modifying viruses so that they learn to store energy. She began working with what she calls" biologically inspired manufacturing techniques" in the mid-1990s, when she was a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara. She discovered that abalone builds its extraordinarily strong and beautiful shell by using proteins to form nanoscale tiles of calcium carbonate. She figured that using a similar process, other organisms could be taught to create other kinds of nanostructures — perfect microscopic building blocks that she calls" evolved hybrid materials." At the University of Texas and then at MIT, she got down to work: She exposed viruses to semiconductor materials and watched to see if any adhered. When one did, she inserted it into bacteria so it could replicate, then exposed the subsequent generations to the same semiconductor material, strengthening the binding trait. It's a forced and accelerated evolutionary process, and she showed us high-res slides of the result: perfect nanowires that can carry current, biologically directed organisms that can store electrical energy and should someday make superior laptop batteries, solar cells, and fuel cells for transportation. Amazing, amazing stuff.


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