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Virus-based piezoelectric energy generation


Piezoelectric materials can convert mechanical energy into electrical energy1,2, and piezoelectric devices made of a variety of inorganic materials3,4,5 and organic polymers6 have been demonstrated. However, synthesizing such materials often requires toxic starting compounds, harsh conditions and/or complex procedures7. Previously, it was shown that hierarchically organized natural materials such as bones8, collagen fibrils9,10 and peptide nanotubes11,12 can display piezoelectric properties. Here, we demonstrate that the piezoelectric and liquid-crystalline properties of M13 bacteriophage (phage) can be used to generate electrical energy. Using piezoresponse force microscopy, we characterize the structure-dependent piezoelectric properties of the phage at the molecular level. We then show that self-assembled thin films of phage can exhibit piezoelectric strengths of up to 7.8 pm V−1. We also demonstrate that it is possible to modulate the dipole strength of the phage, hence tuning the piezoelectric response, by genetically engineering the major coat proteins of the phage. Finally, we develop a phage-based piezoelectric generator that produces up to 6 nA of current and 400 mV of potential and use it to operate a liquid-crystal display. Because biotechnology techniques enable large-scale production of genetically modified phages, phage-based piezoelectric materials potentially offer a simple and environmentally friendly approach to piezoelectric energy generation.

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Figure 1: Schematic of piezoelectric M13 phage structure.
Figure 2: Piezoelectric properties of monolayer phage films.
Figure 3: Piezoelectric properties of multilayer 4E-phage films.
Figure 4: Characterization of phage-based piezoelectric energy generator.


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The authors thank Jiyoung Chang and Liwei Lin (University of California, Berkeley) for help with device fabrication and signal measurement. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems (EEC-0832819) and the Laboratory Directed Research and Development fund from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Author information




B.Y.L. and S.W.L. conceived the experiment. B.Y.L., J.Z., C.Z. and J.M. performed PFM experiments. W.C., J.M. and C.Z. prepared the phage monolayer and multilayer films. Y.S.Y. prepared the genetically engineered phages. B.Y.L. fabricated the energy-generating devices and carried out measurement of the signals. B.Y.L. and E.W. performed the nanoindentation experiments on phage films. E.W. modelled the electrostatic potential of phage coat proteins. B.Y.L., J.Z., J.M., R.R. and S.W.L. analysed the data. B.Y.L., C.Z., E.W. and S.W.L. wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Seung-Wuk Lee.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Lee, B., Zhang, J., Zueger, C. et al. Virus-based piezoelectric energy generation. Nature Nanotech 7, 351–356 (2012).

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