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  • Since the early 1900s, researchers have been working on ways to turn radioactive material

  • into an electric current that lasts.. for decades.

  • Yeah, that's right.

  • We're talking about nuclear batteries!

  • This class of batteries is known as betavoltaics, and they're powered by the beta-decay of

  • a radioactive materialhence the name.

  • Beta particles are basically just high-energy electrons, so setting a beta-emitting material

  • up next to a semiconductor is virtually all you need to get an electric current in motion.

  • Though their power output can be pretty low (we're talkin' less than an AA battery),

  • they last as long as it takes the material to decay.

  • And since radioactive materials can have half-lives of centuries to millennia, that means batteries

  • that could last for decades without any noticeable power loss.

  • As an aside, betavoltaics are different from the Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators

  • (or RTGs) that NASA uses for space missions.

  • Those are powered by the HEAT of radioactive materials, like plutonium, instead of beta

  • particles directlyand are also sometimes referred to as nuclear batteries.

  • But betavoltaics can be made smaller and safer than RTGs, and with the incredibly long lifetimes

  • that nuclear promises.

  • Back in 1954, the Radio Corporation of America announced the development of their first betavoltaic

  • battery.

  • And at the time, it was a big deal.

  • RCA imagined them being used in wristwatches, hearing aids, and radios.

  • And in the February 1954 issue of LIFE magazine, RCA even compared their invention to Edison's

  • lightbulb.

  • But, while lightbulbs are literally everywhere, I would wager you probably don't own a device

  • that runs on nuclear batteries.

  • Today, betavoltaics are mainly used in deep space and military applications- far away

  • from the average consumer.

  • And there are a lot of factors involved as to why that is, but a big one is safety.

  • Like I said before, betavoltaics are safer than other nuclear power systems, but some

  • beta-emitting materials can still be pretty dangerous.

  • For example, RCA's prototype from 1954 ran on Strontium-90, exposure to which can cause

  • leukemia.

  • And even though their battery was coated with radiation blocking materials, it still probably

  • wasn't the safest thing to hand off to anyone walking down the street.

  • But we've come a long way!

  • In recent years, several research teams have been looking for a way to safely harness the

  • power of betavoltaics.

  • And one team at the University of Bristol is making one out of DIaMonDZ!

  • We talked to Dr. Neil Fox, who's developing a new prototype made out of carbon-14, a naturally-occurring

  • radioisotope that's in our atmosphere and in all living things..

  • It's also a common nuclear power plant waste material.

  • [Dr. Neil Fox ] “So our research has really been about looking for ways to repurpose that

  • material, so that it effectively can be recycled.

  • And carbon-14 is a particularly attractive one because it's not really on the list

  • of really nasty radioisotopes.

  • It's a fairly, friendly material to work with..”

  • Fox's team isolated Carbon-14 and synthesized a diamond out of it.

  • In doing so, they created a radioactive diamond that could produce an electric current(!!).

  • Granted, it's a small one- not enough to power your phone.

  • But it IS enough to power smoke detectors, emergency signs, IoT devices, sensors in jet

  • engines or deep sea cables, and even e-readers.

  • And it could power all of those things for decades, without needing to be replaced.

  • As for safety?-- [Dr. Neil Fox] “It is totally safe because

  • we're talking about a device which is made of diamond.

  • The radioactive part is actually diamond as well And all of the radiation, all of the

  • power of the device is completely absorbed by the diamond structure around it.”

  • But perhaps one of the most impactful applications of this battery is for medical implants.

  • Today, they largely rely on lithium ion batteries, but those have limitations.

  • [Dr. Neil Fox ] "I mean there's some little girl, she has to have some fairly intrusive

  • surgery on her hearing implant every 26 days they have to change the battery on this thing

  • We're constantly getting emails from people who've got all sorts of implantsSo if

  • you can provide them with a solution where it's fitted to last for decades, even for

  • a lifetime, that's got to be worth something."

  • So, today's nuclear batteries might not be what scientists imagined back in the 1950s,

  • but a nuclear diamond battery that could go inside you?

  • Still pretty dang cool if you ask me.

  • For more on the science of batteries, check out this playlist, and let us know down in

  • the comments if there are any other battery topics you want us to cover!

  • As always, thanks for watching, and I'll see you next time on Seeker.

Since the early 1900s, researchers have been working on ways to turn radioactive material

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ダイヤモンド型核電池は永遠に (Diamond Nuclear Batteries Are Forever)

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    PENG に公開 2021 年 01 月 14 日
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