Materials World February 2018
When German explorer Alexander von Humboldt explored South America, cataloguing local flora and fauna in the 18th century, he relied on the local population to educate him about the dangerous species. Amongst the many that posed a threat is one deadly beast that still lives in the Amazon River: the Electhrophus electricus – the electric eel.
It is capable of generating around 600 volts of electricity – about three times the current that comes out of our power sockets here in the UK - to catch its prey. Scientists are eager to mimic the mechanism of how the eel charges its entire body and implement a similar system to power various products inside the human body such as pace makers and prosthetics.
This electrifying idea has recently made the leap from concept to reality. Scientists from the Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan, USA, and the Adolphe Merkle Institute, University of Fribourg, Switzerland, built an eel-inspired power source. However, they still need to work out how to transform their invention into self-powered batteries for biomedical applications. This won’t happen overnight, after all, turning scientific innovations into real life applications takes time...
While we are awaiting the arrival of these inventions, I would recommend learning more about von Humbolt by reading the book Measuring the World, written by Daniel Kehlmann. It tells the story of the time the German scientist met mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss, who had a completely opposing personality to him, but at the same time was equally absorbed in distilling the Earth into figures and numbers.
Ines Nastali, Editor