The water-powered Palm Pilot

Two Canadian scientists have just discovered a unique new way to create electricity — merely by squirting water through a set of tiny tubes. The concept is based on a simple principle of physics, as the Globe and Mail reports:

It’s been known for many decades that when a liquid such as water comes into contact with a non-conducting solid such as glass, ceramic or stone an interaction occurs between the two at a microscopic level that creates a charge on the surface, Prof. Kostiuk said.

Because of the movement of positive and negative ions, the solid becomes negatively charged and the water next to the surface positively charged.

So they took a syringe, filled it with water, and squirted it through a 2-centimeter glass filter which has 450,000 tiny holes in it. Then they attached metal electrodes to either end of the glass filter, where the positive and negative charges would be created. Presto: They created electricity running at 10 volts with a milliamp current, enough to power a small lightbulb.

Amazingly, this is the first new way to generate sustained electrical current invented since 1839. And the thing is, modern cities are shot through with running water, all of which could be outfitted with converters to turn our plumbing into a new source of energy. The scientists figure that a couple of simple parts could be used to modify your tap at home, so that every time you turned on the water, you could also generate electricity to charge your Palm Pilot or mobile phone.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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