Technology See Inside Self-Powered Nanotech Nanosize machines need still tinier power plants By Zhong Lin Wang ADAM QUESTELL The watchmaker in the 1920s who devised the self-winding wristwatch was on to a great idea: mechanically harvesting energy from the wearer’s moving arm and putting it to work rewinding the watch spring. Today we are beginning to create extremely small energy harvesters that can supply electrical power to the tiny world of nanoscale devices, where things are measured in billionths of a meter. We call these power plants nanogenerators. The ability to make power on a minuscule scale allows us to think of implantable biosensors that can continuously monitor a patient’s blood glucose level, or autonomous strain sensors for structures such as bridges, or environmental sensors for detecting toxins—all running without the need for replacement batteries. Energy sources are desperately needed for nanorobotics, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), homeland security and even portable personal electronics. It is hard to imagine all the uses such infinitesimal generators may eventually find. This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now! Select an option below: Buy Digital Issue Customer Sign In *You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com. Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access. ADVERTISEMENT Scientific American is a trademark of Scientific American, Inc., used with permission © 2013 Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.