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Mini ‘wind farm’ could capture energy from microbes in motion

Chaotic swirling becomes synchronized swimming to rotate turbines, simulation shows

2:00pm, July 8, 2016
wind farm

PINT-SIZED POWER  Computer simulations show how the motion of swimming bacteria could be harnessed to generate power using a device like the wind farm shown above — but on a microscopic scale.

Fluid filled with lively, churning bacteria could one day become a small-scale power source.

New computer simulations indicate that a miniature wind farm‒like device could harvest the energy of chaotically swirling bacteria. That energy could be used to power micromachines or pump fluids through tiny channels. In the simulations, bacteria tended to spontaneously swim in an orderly fashion around an array of cylindrical turbines. These turbines then rotated steadily like windmills in a breeze, scientists report July 8 in Science Advances.

Previous research has harnessed the energy of the motion in such chaotic fluids using tiny, asymmetric gears, which spin as bacteria bump into their teeth. But the new result shows that a very simple system can serve the same purpose — a result that could make such devices easier to construct. “You don’t have to muck around with getting the teeth

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