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"Next Wave" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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A team of scientists at MIT have discovered a previously unknown phenomenon that can cause powerful waves of energy to shoot through minuscule wires known as carbon nanotubes. The discovery could lead to a new way of producing electricity, the researchers say.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: spark sound) Sparking a Revolution.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

An MIT research team has come up with a new way to produce electricity. There's something you don't hear every day. The process works using thermo power waves -- pulses of heat moving rapidly through microscopic tubes to create current. In fact, 100 times more current than a lithium-ion battery of the same weight.

Here's how to build one using items you won't find at your neighborhood hardware home store:

You're gonna need carbon nanotubes -- ultra-tiny hollow tubes a few billionths of a meter in diameter -- highly conductive for electricity and heat. You would then want to coat the tubes with a layer of a highly-reactive fuel that can produce heat when decomposing.

Now using a laser beam or high voltage spark (your choice), you light the fuel at the end of the tube. Pushing electrons and creating more current with this reaction than scientists ever calculated in theory.

Next the team will work on improving efficiency. This research could lead to miniature injectable electronic diagnostic devices or environmental sensors that could be scattered like dust in the air or stacked to power larger applications.

(Sound effect: football crowd) Kinda like tiny fans in a stadium creating a little electricity by doing the "wave" -- WHOA...

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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