Skip to main content
Email Print Share

Imagine That! -- "Long-Life Batteries"

Imagine That!
Audio Play Audio

Imagine That! -- "Long-Life Batteries"

Credit: NSF/Finger Lakes Productions International

Audio Transcript:

What if your batteries really kept going and going and going?

Imagine that!

(SOUND: heartbeat)

Changing a battery is usually a cinch. But batteries for sensors on bridges, medical implants, or satellites can be another story. Now scientists are designing a "beta-battery," which would rarely -- if ever -- need changing. The beta-batteries being studied are fueled by tritium, a radioactive isotope which releases electrons as it decays. These electrons are captured and turned into electricity by porous silicon semiconductors -- almost exactly like solar cells convert sunlight! The silicon is etched with a network of deep pores that effectively capture those decay electrons. The radiation is contained inside a sealed case.

A tritium powered battery may last several years. But one powered by nickel sixty-three, another radioactive isotope, may last for decades. Larry Gadeken, beta-battery's designer, describes yet another feature.

Gadeken: "The tritium radioactive nucleus that I'm using is a waste product of the nuclear power cycle -- the first positive use of radioactive waste."

That may be the biggest advantage of all. I'm Eric Phillips.

"Imagine That!" covers projects funded by the U.S. government's National Science Foundation. Federally-sponsored research -- brought to you by you! Learn more at

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.