Using MIT’s top-grade facilities, Julian Bos tested his self-constructed flexible piezoelectric nanofiber sensors. The aim was to find out if they could contribute to the energy transition. Renewable energy is the main theme in Julian Bos’ research. His project, which was funded by FB Oranjewoud and Innovation Cluster Drachten, attracted attention and culminated in a scientific publication. On Thursday 28 November, Julian presented his findings at the ICD Learning Day held at Philips in Drachten.
Seal whiskers fascinate Julian Bos. With a short video, he showed how a seal swam the exact same route an object traveled a few seconds before. Vibrating whiskers appear to be capable of registering tiny water movements. This is the core of Julian’s research project on flexible piezoelectric nanofiber sensors. These sensors generate voltage using minute vibrations in water. Julian explained how he designed and built his flexible sensors. He showed that his sensors produce electricity through whirls in water. “The stronger the whirl, the more electricity is produced, with peaks up to 2 volts, which is comparable to the charging voltage of a cell battery.
What is piezoelectricity? The piezoelectric effect is the phenomenon that crystals in certain materials produce electricity under mechanical stress, for instance caused by bending. You might think that there are numerous applications for this phenomenon, but Julian has not yet come that far. “You can think of applications that consume little energy in places where replacing batteries is difficult, for instance at sea.” He also sees a possible application in flagpoles. “The cord of the flagpole moves all the time. This continuous movement combined with sensors could generate energy.” Dragging the sensor through water at a certain speed also generates electricity, and this is equally the case when sensors are located in fast-flowing water that causes whirls behind obstacles. “The greater the speed, the more electricity is produced. Sensors are easy to make, not poisonous, and can be used everywhere in air and water.”
No culture of mediocrity
Someone in the audience asked if we in the Northern Netherlands could learn from the research at MIT. “They have no culture of mediocrity there,” replies Julian without hesitation. “Everyone at MIT continues to work until they have obtained the best result, even at night and during weekends. We can learn something from them with our nine-to-five mentality.” According Julian, the way in which research gets funded plays an important role in this. “You need funding to do research and when you get money, you want to show that you can deliver and perform. After all, you get the grant to work.’’
The time at MIT gave Julian a wonderful experience and allowed him to work on a great research project, but it also brought him into contact with influential people. “It looks great on my CV, for sure, but more importantly it taught me that you can achieve anything by working hard.” When asked if this is also possible here, Julian answered: “Students here are just as smart as those who study at MIT, but the level is higher and not everyone can meet these high standards. It is not lack of smartness that is the cause of this difference.”
Julian's study trip was made possible in part by FB Oranjewoud