Solar-Powered Swimsuit

May 9th, 2007 by Gene

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The engineers are at it again. Recharge your iPod from your swimsuit. We’ll look into it. Today. On Engineering Works!

One of the biggest problems with portable high-tech equipment like cell phones and iPods is that the batteries keep running down. It’s hard to recharge a fading iPod at the beach.

Some engineers in Germany may have an answer for you. A solar-powered swimsuit, complete with a miniature plug-in for your MP3 player’s power cord. And you can even swim in it.

Engineers at an energy company in Hamburg are working with a German fashion house to design and build a swimsuit with banks of photovoltaic cells to convert all that seaside or poolside sunlight into electricity. You have to let the cells dry off before you plug in after your swim, but it’s the idea that counts.

In case you’ve forgotten, or didn’t know, photovoltaic cells are those little solar cells on the front of your calculator. Bigger versions produce electricity that powers traffic signals and streetlights in some places and satellites in orbit.

Photovoltaic cells use sunlight to produce electricity directly from sunlight. The process works because flat layers of semiconductors in the cells absorb energy from sunlight. This energy knocks loose electrons in the semiconductors and they move around. When they move, we get electricity. Someday maybe enough to run our houses or cars.

Our swimsuit seems to be running down and we better turn off the mike. See you next time.

EngineeringWorks! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. We’re on the World Wide Web, too. Visit us at engineeringworks.tamu.edu.

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