Wu mentors student "footstep power" project

Students test the Power Pad which generates 10 watts of power for every step.
Students test the Power Pad which generates 10 watts of power for every step. Photo courtesy of Swarnav Pujari.
Assistant Professor Wenzhuo Wu mentored a former student in creating a new source for renewable energy – footstep power. Student researcher Swarnav Pujari describes the novel device: “It’s called the Power Pad; it’s a square-foot sized device to cover any moderate to heavy-traffic location and generates electricity.”

Wu met Pujari in 2013 when Pujari was a high school student interested in researching with Wu’s postdoctoral advisor at Georgia Tech, Dr. Zhong Lin Wang. With Dr. Wang’s support, Wu mentored Pujari and guided his research that summer to develop a nanogenerator for converting footstep motion into electricity. “Nanogenerator technology was invented by Dr. Zhong Lin Wang’s group, and his group is the leading research group in this field of energy harvesting using nanomaterials/nanodevices,” explained Wu.

The research goal was to develop a low-cost, efficient nanogenerator based on Wang Group research. “Swarnav later used the prototype developed at Georgia Tech under my mentoring to compete for several international and national STEM competitions,” said Wu. “This research project received a Gold Award in Engineering at the International Sustainable World Energy Engineering Environment Project Olympiad (I-SWEEEP) 2015.” Pujari’s winning project is entitled: “Solving the Energy Crisis One Step at a Time”.

Since 2013, Wu has been helping answer questions through emails and phone calls and consult on Pujari’s research on the nanogenerator. Now a UIUC freshman, Pujari "visited me early this year at Purdue, and is seeking opportunities to continue the research in my group at Purdue IE during summer,” said Wu.

“This Power Pad prototype is a very good example of how nanoscience and nanotechnology can be organically integrated into the STEM training of K-12 and undergraduate students,” said Wu.

Wu says this research ties in with part of his group’s research at Purdue IE: integrating as-manufactured functional nanomaterials with designed and engineered functionalities (e.g., *piezoelectric and triboelectric materials) for an efficient energy harvesting system. “We aim to provide new solution to power future electronics, e.g., implantable and wearable devices, by harvesting the energy available in their environment, so that such future smart device can operate in a self-powered manner without the use of batteries,” he explained.

That sounds like a step in the right direction.

*A piezoelectric charge that accumulates in certain solid materials (such as crystals, certain ceramics, and biological matter such as bone, DNA and various proteins) in response to applied mechanical stress. Triboelectric materials become electrically charged after they come into frictional contact with a different material.

Writer: DeEtte Starr, starrd@purdue.edu