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The transparent battery: Is an invisible iPhone next?

July 27, 2011 |  1:13 pm

Screen Shot 2011-07-27 at 3.40.55 PM

In the category of people making things you didn't know you need, researchers at Stanford University have just created a thin, flexible, totally transparent lithium-ion battery. It is about the size and shape of a Listerine breath mint strip, and as clear as Saran Wrap.

According to an article on the university' website, researchers were inspired to make a see-through battery partially because they want transparent Apple products to be a reality in the future.

"I want to talk to Steve Jobs about this. I want a transparent iPhone!" said Yi Cui, battery expert extraordinaire and an associate professor of materials science at Stanford who worked on the project.

Cui created the battery with graduate student Yuan Yang, who is the first author of the paper "Transparent Lithium-ion Batteries," published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The challenge of making a battery see-through is that certain key materials that make a battery work are fundamentally not transparent, and no good transparent substitutes could be found. The Stanford scientists found a way around the hurdle by making the non-transparent parts of the battery so small that they cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Here's how the Stanford story explains it:

"If something is smaller than 50 microns, your eyes will feel like it is transparent," said Yang, because the maximum resolving power of the human eye is somewhere between 50 to 100 microns."

Yang and Cui devised a mesh-like framework for the battery electrodes, with each "line" in the grid being approximately 35 microns wide. Light passes through the transparent gaps between the gridlines; because the individual lines are so thin, the entire meshwork area appears transparent.

The battery is not strong enough to power a laptop yet, but it could power a camera. And Ciu is optimistic that it won't be long before the battery gets stronger.

If you want to geek out, you can read more about the crazy science that went into this battery here.


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Image: A screenshot of a Stanford produced video detailing transparent batteries developed by its researchers. Credit: Stanford University