Saturday, May 14, 2005

Nuclear Battery

Reseachers at the University of Rochester are developing a new battery that will last decades and be potentially hundreds of times more efficient than conventional nuclear batteries. Such batteries would find a niche in applications where power is needed in inaccessible places, or places under extreme conditions, where the option of replacing or recharging a battery is limited -- applications such as implanted medical devices or space and ocean probes. The process being exployed to create such a battery is betavoltaics, where electrons from nuclear decay is captured and used to generate an electrical current. Unfortunately, electrons emitted via nuclear decay are sent off in random directions -- mostly missing the electron capture mechanism. The innovation made by the researchers was to make the capture mechanism with pits -- each pit being filled with radioactive gas. Decay then occurs in the cocoon of capture mechanism pits -- increasing electron capture yield and therefore increasing electrical output. In essence, the researchers have increased the surface area of the capture mechanism.

Think of the applications. You may soon see people walking around with the nuclear symbol emblazoned on their chests (nuclear powered pacemakers) or on the case of their laptops. Cool!

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