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Elvis recharges the mobe

Americans are working on nanotubes. In Germany, they are making artificial diamonds that are tougher and denser than the naturally occurring kind.

Here in Britain, in Somerset to be precise, we are harnessing, as Ananova reports, hamster power:

We’ve often wondered for what purpose exactly hamsters were put upon this earth, and now we know: to charge mobile phones.

Sixteen-year-old Peter Ash, of Somerset, finally cracked this age-old poser after his long-suffering sister complained of pet hamster Elvis scuttling away for hours during his nocturnal exercise wheel regime.

Ash told Ananova: “I thought the wheel could be made to do something useful so I connected a system of gears and a turbine.” He then patched the output to his mobe’s charger and voila! – free hamster energy at around thirty minutes’ talktime for every two hamster wheel minutes.

My thanks to Michael Jennings for emailing me the link to this important news. In his email, he noted the educational angle. Apparently this was a school project, but was not marked very highly.

Surprisingly – and considering all the current moaning about falling exam standards, etc, etc – Ash only got a “C” for this contribution to his GSCE science course and, undoubtedly, a clean-energy future for all our children. Perhaps if he’d knocked together a desktop cold fusion reactor powered by supercharged, neutron-emitting guinea pigs suspended in deuterium gas he might have earned himself an “A”.

To be a bit more serious, I think the real story here is not just a new way to get power, but the fact that nowadays a little bit of power can go a whole lot further than it used to. Hamsters have long had it in them to crank out a dribble of electricity. What is new here, surely, is the “mobe” which makes such good use of it.

Over the weekend, Bill Oddie fronted a TV show about dinosaurs, in which, in order to learn how fast dinosaurs could run, an ostrich called Sharon was asked to run on an exercise machine. She apparently enjoyed doing this a lot. (The point was that ostriches have similar legs to what dinosaurs used to have. Work out how fast and for how long ostriches can run, with their legs, and you can calculate how fast and for how long the dinosaurs could run.) Maybe Sharon and her sisters and brothers could get jobs generating electricity.

Maybe gymnasia could double up as places where you can recharge your phone. By the sweat of your brow, I mean. Not just by handing it in at the desk and collecting it later. That way, you earn the right to spout rubbish over it to your idiot friends.

14 comments to Elvis recharges the mobe

  • RAB

    EEEEE! he’s an amateur is that lad! No wonder exam results are so poor. Straight A’s ? He’d a failed in’t my young day!
    I’ve had a pack of dogs in’t basement for years now, working on a treddle of my own design. They leap up in responce to soap bubbles coming out top. Then down, then up! Well it powers everything but the central heating! Bloody marvelous!
    By the way, I think the bees have been winding up my wristwatch for ages now, but I dont think they’ve noticed me noticing!
    Yours truely, Kevin Einstein.

  • Wild Pegasus

    Technically, the hamster’s energy isn’t free. The hamster has to be fed and watered, his cage needs to be cleaned, etc. Rather, it’s a better usage of sunken costs: the hamster would be fed and watered and have its cage cleaned anyway.

    – Josh

  • Zmollusc

    Where does the turbine come into it? Is the hamster’s flatulence also harnessed? Or is the hamster a sikh?

  • Julian Taylor

    Industrial synthetic diamonds have been around since the mid-1950’s, mostly for drilling purposes, and they tend to last just as long as the real thing – i.e. not very long at all. There’s a company in the US that makes synthetics from a single crystal formed in chemical vapor and they are apparently so good that De Beers had to make a machine specially so that gem merchants can tell the ‘real’ from the synthetic diamonds. The other fascinating use for them is that they could well be the answer to the semi-conductor industry’s prayers – synthetics can be ‘grown’ to whatever shape they are needed for and thus could conceivably be the next processor base.

    As for hamster power it was commented on a short while ago. The now deceased Skippy, a Syrian hamster, could maintain 2 to 3 mph over at least 2 hours per night in his wheel and managed to power a nightlight for his owner.

  • HJHJ

    Of course, treadmills require electricity to run so a better method of harnessing ostrich power would be needed.

    Julian Taylor refers to silicon-on-insulator technologies. These have been a holy grail for years in semconductors. It’s not that crystals can be grown in any shape which is the potential advantage (every SOI wafer I have seen is a conventional round flat shape), it’s that the transistors deposited epitaxially on top can be electrically isolated, thus avoiding the parasitic capacitances and other parasitic structures inherent in bulk silicon substrates. However, this is easier said than done and there can be all sorts of drawbacks in terms of costs, yields, misalignment of crystalline structures, etc. So far S-O-I technologies have not really caught on except in niche applications such as space (where immunity to latch-up and to cumulative radiation dose are important advantages). It may still happen – I’m a bit out of touch with the latest semiconductor technological developments – but nothing has taken over from bulk silicon yet, despite all the predictions.

    I have a 15-year old silicon-on-sapphire wafer on my desk (I use it as a coffee mat). It looks much like any other wafer until you hold it up to the light when you can see that it’s translucent. Sadly, it doesn’t have the usual blue sapphire colour (it’s a creamy colour where the aluminium interconnect doesn’t obscure the sapphire) which is caused by impurities in naturally occurring sapphire. The other thing you notice is that the chips are spaced further apart than on a conventional wafer – it takes a pretty robust saw to cut sapphire!

  • Tim

    Perhaps we should install a wind turbine in the offices of the Guardian to make good use of all the hot air?

  • Julian Taylor

    HJHJ, fascinating to read that.

    I have read that they have been experimenting with synthetics by adding various components like boron or cobalt, in an attempt to achieve a perfect semi-conductor, a process known as ‘doping’ where they add various gases during the diamond’s chemical forming stage.

    The other side of the synthetic diamond industry is describe in thisWired article.

  • kelikan919

    Could be a use for all those unwanted guinea pigs that won’t be used in medical testing.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Linking exercise and electricity generation? That’s a great idea!

    Imagine, hooking up laptops and mobile phones to a charger powered while you hop onto one of those bikes in the gym, or any number of devices which could conceivably harness physical motion into electricity.

    Maybe it won’t make a dent in energy consumption, but then again, maybe it will. Every bit helps, after all.


  • Julian Taylor

    Imagine, hooking up laptops and mobile phones to a charger powered while you hop onto one of those bikes in the gym, or any number of devices which could conceivably harness physical motion into electricity.

    Solves the unemployment crisis, the obesity crisis, the energy crisis and it would lend eco-cred to the mobile handset manufacturers. Of course a lot of overweight unemployable layabouts would scream blue murder at being exploited, but I’d hazard a guess that even Michael Moore needs SOME exercise …

  • Sigivald

    OF course, you can already buy various hand-cranks for charging a cell-phone (many of them also have an LED flashlight), which is orders of magnitude more efficient than a hamsterwheel.

  • HJHJ


    Not sure quite what you mean by a ‘perfect semiconductor’. By definition, semiconductors are neither perfect conductors or perfect insulators.

    The point of SOI technologies is not that the insulator (sapphire, diamond or whatever) becomes the semiconductor – we want it to be an insulating substrate. Conventional semiconductor devices (usually silicon) are then constucted on top (grown epitaxially, in industry jargon) but they are electrically isolated from each other due to the insulator underneath (of course, we do connect them together, but only in the way intended by the circuit designer, rather in the unwanted ways that occur when they’re made from the same material as the substrate).

    Doping (using materials like boron or cobalt) is the normal way of changing the properties of silicon to produce transistors. This used to be achieved by diffusion (i.e. exposing the bits of silicon whose properties you want to alter, to the doping materials in gaseous form so that they would diffuse into the silicon). Nowadays, it is done by direct ion implantation (i.e. charged atoms/molecules – ions – of the material with which you wish to dope are accelerated into the exposed silicon. This gives much more precise results – essential for today’s small geometry devices.

  • Jacob

    Hasn’t this idea of using muscle power been already implemented before ?

    Seems to me that for a couple dozen million years or so, mankind depended on it exclusively.

  • Paul

    I’m looking for a company which make artificial sapphire wafer as big as possible like 6″x6″ or smaller.
    Thanks for any information about that