New patent-pending invention could allow body heat to power up smart phones

NASA grant propels invention into prototype stage

NEW ORLEANS - A new patent-pending invention that could ultimately allow body heat to power up smart phones is entering the prototype stage thanks to a nearly $75,000 NASA grant awarded by the John C. Stennis Space Center.
 
Thermoelectric technology -- the ability to turn heat into electricity -- has been around for years but experts say it's plagued by inefficient processes. Loyola University New Orleans physics professor Patrick Garrity, however, aims to change that.
 
The $74,523 grant will allow Garrity to manipulate the inner-workings of a thermoelectric device that resembles a small square chip, called metamaterial. Where the heat enters the chip, Garrity has created paths to guide the heat very specifically, making the process of turning heat into power expeditious.
 
While researchers in the past tried creating a new super material to absorb heat and turn it into electricity, Garrity said his method uses complex physics to raise the efficiency of the devices by orders of magnitude.
 
Research groups have been working to try to raise the efficiency for thermoelectrics to make it competitive with other technologies like solar power, he also said.
 
The grant funds beta tests to be conducted by Garrity and a Loyola undergraduate researcher at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi's Hancock County. Next summer, he expects to test the prototype device's ability to power sensors mounted next to a rocket engine at Stennis' engine testing facility.
 
Garrity's team for the project also includes physics expert Kevin Stokes, Ph.D., and engineering expert Paul Schilling, Ph.D., both of the University of New Orleans.
 
"That's what I'm most excited about is moving this from the lab bench to an actual application," Garrity said. "That's what we're working towards. The next step after that would be commercialization, and then we could move to maybe licensing the patent."

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