Illustration by Mike Domina

Eurodance group Snap! had a massive worldwide hit in 1990 with the refrain “I’ve got the power.” Thirty years later, a Spider’s research might be proving right, literally, everyone who sang and danced along to the infectious earworm.

As Mason Zadan, ’20, begins his doctoral program in mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University this fall, he’s building on research he did with others as an undergraduate on stretchable thermoelectric generators. The goal is that users wearing the generators will be able to power devices with the heat of their bodies.

“This research presents a novel alternative for batteries in wearable electronics,” he said. “Using human body heat alone, these devices can generate renewable energy. There is a lot of potential for this kind of research.”

The key is incorporating a new type of material into thermal electric generators that allows them to become completely bendable and stretchable. One possible application is passive medical sensing. For example, thermal electricity could power devices determining heart rate or blood oxygen levels for a patient needing full-time medical attention.

“This is great for human-body interactions because now, instead of having a rigid piece of ceramic stuck to your body, you could put this in an armband-style device or the inside of a smart watch in the future,” he said. “There is a potential to power a lot of devices down the line, even implantable medical devices.”

Zadan’s research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the Richmond Guarantee program, which helped him spend two summers working in a Carnegie Mellon lab as an undergraduate.