A research team at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has developed a new technique for creating a thin layer of amino acids with specific orientation. This layer demonstrates high piezoelectric strength, which means it can convert mechanical energy into electrical energy. This breakthrough could lead to the production of biocompatible and biodegradable medical devices, such as pacemakers and implantable biosensors.

The piezoelectric effect is the ability of certain materials to generate electricity when subjected to mechanical stress. This effect is significant in living systems, as it plays a role in bone growth and remodeling, as well as oxygen binding in the lungs.

Current piezoelectric materials are often rigid and toxic, making them unsuitable for implantation in humans. Amino acids, however, are promising alternatives due to their biocompatibility and sustainability. However, aligning biomolecules in the correct orientation has proven challenging for many years.

The research team at HKUST has developed a self-assembly strategy to create these biomaterial films with aligned orientation over a large area. Using this technique, they found that β-glycine films exhibited the highest piezoelectric strain coefficient compared to other biomolecular films.

These self-assembled piezoelectric films can generate electrical signals from mechanical stress produced by muscle stretching, breathing, blood flow, and small body movements. They do not require batteries and will dissolve in the body once their purpose is fulfilled.

The team plans to further improve the film’s flexibility and develop cost-effective methods for mass production. They also aim to conduct experiments in animals to demonstrate biomedical applications. This research is a collaboration with City University of Hong Kong and University of Wollongong in Australia and was recently published in Nature Communications.

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