Heartbeat to keep future pacemakers ticking

March 4th, 2012 - 5:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 4 (IANS) An unlikely source could keep cardiac pacemakers ticking in the future - the heartbeat itself, without the necessity of batteries.

University of Michigan engineering researchers have designed a device that harvests the vibration of heartbeats through the chest and converts it to electricity to run a pacemaker or an implanted defibrillator.

By replacing batteries that power them today, which last five to 10 years, the new energy harvester could save patients from repeated surgeries, the journal Applied Physics Letters reports.

“The idea is to use ambient vibrations that are typically wasted and convert them to electrical energy,” said Amin Karami, research fellow at the Michigan department of aerospace engineering.

“If you put your hand on top of your heart, you can feel these vibrations all over your torso,” added Karami, according to a Michigan statement.

The researchers haven’t built a prototype yet, but they’ve done enough work to make the concept work. Here’s how: A 100th-of-an-inch thin slice of a special “piezoelectric” ceramic material would essentially catch heartbeat vibrations and briefly expand in response.

Piezoelectric materials’ claim to fame is that they can convert mechanical stress (which causes them to expand) into an electric voltage. The new device could generate 10 microwatts of power, which is about eight times the amount a pacemaker needs to operate, Karami said.

Karami and colleague Daniel Inman, who heads aerospace engineering at Michigan, have precisely engineered the ceramic layer to a shape that can harvest heart vibrations across a range of frequencies.

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