In the US science-fiction movie After Earth, protagonist Kitai Raige wears a magical suit. The suit, normally brown and scaly, turns beige when Kitai is cold. When he is bitten by a poisonous insect, the suit turns white.
Now, the once-fictional concept has come true. At the third International Conference on Nanoenergy and Nanosystems in Beijing, Wang Zhonglin, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, introduced one of its many inventions - an intelligent suit - that has functions similar to Kitai"s.
Intelligent suits, fitted with large sensors made of woven material, can detect temperature, chemical balance, blood pressure and other indicators of a person"s health status. By wireless transmission, those signals can be sent to a cellphone, computer or even to a doctor far away, so the wearer can be monitored anytime and anywhere, Wang said.
The conference, organized by the Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems, is one of the most influential in nanoscience and energy. More than 700 scientists from at least 30 countries attended the conference from Oct 21 to 23.
Wang also mentioned "nano tattoos" for drug injections. Stickers on the arm can be shaped into a tattoo-like pattern to deliver medicine into a subject"s body. It"s a private, painless injection method that could help people such as diabetics.
Also in the health sector: a self-charging pacemaker for the heart that doesn"t need recharging or replacement.
Scientists have made prototypes of all the gadgets at the institute"s technopark. They are expected to hit the market in two to three years, Wang said.
The secret behind these high-tech gadgets is an innovation called the triboelectric nanogenerator. It harvests mechanical energy during motion, such as the energy people produce when they walk, and transforms it into electrical signals.
This technology is also potentially transformative for the field of electronic devices. For example, page-flipping glasses that allow people to turn digital pages on a cellphone with a blink of an eye, have also become a reality. The trick is to fix a nanogenerator on the frame of the glasses to harvest the mechanical energy of facial expressions, and transform it into electricity to command the cellphone.
On a small scale, nanogenerators can be used to power portable devices. Nanogenerating shoes, suits, bicycles and carpets are a few of the new developments. They all gather the mechanical energy people produce when they walk, run or cycle to power lights, monitor body indicators or record the trajectory of movements while providing energy for themselves.
Ashutosh Tiwari, secretary-general of the International Association of Advanced Materials, spoke highly of China"s contribution to nanoscience.
"China has surpassed the United States and ranks first in the field of nanoenergy. Thanks to the hard work of Chinese scientists around the world, it now produces 50 percent of academic publications every year. But how to synchronize it into applications, that"s a question to think about," he said.
(China Daily 10/31/2017 page5)