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As electronic devices are made ever smaller, there is
increasing demand for similarly minuscule power sources. Now MIT
researchers have reported an important advance toward building
such microscopic batteries. They used a virus to assemble anodes
on top of electrolyte layers--two of the three main components of a
working battery--and connected them to current-collecting surfaces.
The components, described this week in Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences, are only four micrometers wide and could find
application in labs on a chip or other small medical devices, the
researchers say.

Building microscopic batteries has proved difficult in the past
because the proportion of electrochemically active material inside a
battery decreases as its size is reduced. Another trend in electronics
is toward patterning devices onto flexible or curved surfaces, which
power sources must be able to adapt to. The MIT work suggests
that small, reliable batteries can be both made on the microscopic
scale and embedded on a variety of surfaces.

What are new about this research are both the size [of the
battery electrodes] and the process we used to position them," says
Angela Belcher, a professor of materials science at MIT, who
collaborated with colleagues Yet-Ming Chiang and Paula Hammond
on the work. They began by etching columns four micrometers wide
and a few micrometers tall onto a silicon-based surface to
effectively create a stamp. They then deposited alternating layers of
two different polymers, which served as the solid electrolyte and
battery separator, on top of these columns.

Next, a virus called M13, which the researchers have

employed in earlier self-assembly studies, was used to make the
anode. The virus is made of proteins, which can be genetically
modified to react with particular substances. In this case, it
generated structured arrays of cobalt oxide nanowires on top of the
solid electrolyte. Finally, the assembled electrodes were flipped over
and pressed onto thin bands of platinum, which were joined to a
copper contact in order to collect current from the device
Recipe for using viruses to make an electrode:

● Dip a polymer electrolyte in a solution of genetically engineered


● These form a uniform coating on the electrolyte.

● Dip the coated polymer into a solution of battery materials.

● The viruses coat themselves with the battery material,

transforming into nanowires with a regular crystal structure good
for high-energy batteries.
The tested the performance of the device using a layer of
lithium foil and found that "the quality of the electrodes is exactly
the same as before, referring to the group's earlier demonstrations
of larger virus-assembled batteries. the cobalt oxide anode has a
much higher charge storage capacity than the carbon-based
electrodes typically used in lithium-ion batteries, and that it's stable
throughout charging and discharging. It also has a higher density of
active material than do conventional batteries.

The advantages of virus assembly include functioning at room

temperature and precise control over the size and spacing of
nanomaterials, leading to uniform and easily reproducible devices.
The researchers' next goal is to add a virus-assembled cathode to
create a complete battery. As they have experimented with different
materials and have fabricated cathodes on a larger scale, Belcher
says that incorporating micro cathodes into the printing method is
"definitely possible." In the future, she adds, they will work toward
devices with higher energy density and creating devices that are

Applications could include high-energy batteries laminated
invisibly to flat screens in cell phones and laptops or conformed to
fit hearing aids. The same assembly technique could also lead to
more effective catalysts and solar panels, according to the MIT
researchers who developed the technology, by making it possible to
finely control the positions of inorganic materials.