It is believed that the conversion of heat into electricity is intended only for solid materials such as crystals. However, researchers, similar to infrared (IR) vision of snakes, have developed a mathematical model to convert soft organic structures into so-called “pyroelectric” materials. The study has been published in the journal Matter.

The process of converting heat into electrical impulse is called “pyroelectric”. This property is usually found only in solid, inflexible substances. The puzzle is how snakes that are sensitive to infrared radiation can achieve the conversion of heat into electricity?

Vipers and other snakes are well known for their sensitivity to heat. In fact, the Viper’s infrared vision is so sharp that “if an animal appears in total darkness, even half a second, 40 centimeters away, the pit viper will be able to detect it.

This ability exists due to a structure called the pit organ, a hollow chamber near the snake’s nostrils that contains a thin flexible membrane.

The dimpled organ plays an important role in converting heat into a signal that they can detect. However, the missing part of the equation was how the neural cells inside the dimple organ membrane convert the heat signature into electricity to create this signal.

In addition to more advanced design elements to make pyroelectric soft material, all you need to do is build static stable charges into the material and make sure they do not leak. Then you need to make sure that the material is soft enough to allow for greater deformation in shape and size and temperature sensitivity. If you do this, they will act as a pyroelectric, and this is what we were able to prove in our model. And we think that’s what nature uses, because the process is simple and reliable.
Pradeep Sharma, MD Anderson, Professor and Head of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Houston.

The team plans to continue its research on soft matter to generate electricity solely from a magnetic field. With enough research, they hope to inspire scientists to develop pyro, piezo and magnetoelectric soft materials to enhance the power generation capabilities.