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Concept: Potential energy


OBJECTIVE: We investigated the potential of galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS) to quantify lateralised asymmetry of the vestibulospinal pathways by measuring balance responses to monaural GVS in 10 subjects with vestibular schwannoma and 22 healthy control subjects. METHODS: Subjects standing without vision were stimulated with 3s, 1mA direct current stimuli delivered monaurally. The mean magnitude and direction of the evoked balance responses in the horizontal plane were measured from ground-reaction forces and from displacement and velocity of the trunk. Vestibular-evoked myogenic potentials (VEMPs) to 500Hz air and bone-conducted tones were also recorded. RESULTS: In healthy subjects, the magnitudes of the force, velocity and displacement responses were not significantly different for left compared to right ear stimulation. Their individual asymmetry ratios were always <30%. Subjects with vestibular schwannoma had significantly smaller force, velocity and displacement responses to stimulation of the affected compared with non-affected ear. Their mean asymmetry ratios were significantly elevated for all three measures (41.2±10.3%, 40.3±15.1% and 21.9±14.6%). CONCLUSIONS: Asymmetry ratios of balance responses to monaural GVS provide a quantitative and clinically applicable lateralising test of the vestibulospinal pathways. SIGNIFICANCE: This method offers a more clinically relevant measure of standing balance than existing vestibular function tests which assess only vestibuloocular and vestibulocollic pathways.

Concepts: Horizontal plane, Mass, Potential energy, Force, Velocity, Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation, Measurement, Vestibular system


While most existing theoretical studies on the borophene are based on first-principles calculations, the present work presents molecular dynamics simulations for the lattice dynamical and mechanical properties in borophene. The obtained mechanical quantities are in good agreement with previous first-principles calculations. The key ingredients for these molecular dynamics simulations are the two efficient empirical potentials developed in the present work for the interaction of borophene with low-energy triangular structure. The first one is the valence force field model, which is developed with the assistance of the phonon dispersion of borophene. The valence force field model is a linear potential, so it is rather efficient for the calculation of linear quantities in borophene. The second one is the Stillinger-Weber potential, whose parameters are derived based on the valence force field model. The Stillinger-Weber potential is applicable in molecular dynamics simulations of nonlinear physical or mechanical quantities in borophene.

Concepts: Atom, Algebraic structure, Energy, Fundamental physics concepts, Force, Potential energy, Molecular dynamics, Mathematics


Here we show that novel, energy-recycling stairs reduce the amount of work required for humans to both ascend and descend stairs. Our low-power, interactive, and modular steps can be placed on existing staircases, storing energy during stair descent and returning that energy to the user during stair ascent. Energy is recycled through event-triggered latching and unlatching of passive springs without the use of powered actuators. When ascending the energy-recycling stairs, naive users generated 17.4 ± 6.9% less positive work with their leading legs compared to conventional stairs, with the knee joint positive work reduced by 37.7 ± 10.5%. Users also generated 21.9 ± 17.8% less negative work with their trailing legs during stair descent, with ankle joint negative work reduced by 26.0 ± 15.9%. Our low-power energy-recycling stairs have the potential to assist people with mobility impairments during stair negotiation on existing staircases.

Concepts: Human anatomy, Human leg, Joint, Knee, Joints, Stairway, Energy, Potential energy


With efficiencies derived from evolution, growth and learning, humans are very well-tuned for locomotion. Metabolic energy used during walking can be partly replaced by power input from an exoskeleton, but is it possible to reduce metabolic rate without providing an additional energy source? This would require an improvement in the efficiency of the human-machine system as a whole, and would be remarkable given the apparent optimality of human gait. Here we show that the metabolic rate of human walking can be reduced by an unpowered ankle exoskeleton. We built a lightweight elastic device that acts in parallel with the user’s calf muscles, off-loading muscle force and thereby reducing the metabolic energy consumed in contractions. The device uses a mechanical clutch to hold a spring as it is stretched and relaxed by ankle movements when the foot is on the ground, helping to fulfil one function of the calf muscles and Achilles tendon. Unlike muscles, however, the clutch sustains force passively. The exoskeleton consumes no chemical or electrical energy and delivers no net positive mechanical work, yet reduces the metabolic cost of walking by 7.2 ± 2.6% for healthy human users under natural conditions, comparable to savings with powered devices. Improving upon walking economy in this way is analogous to altering the structure of the body such that it is more energy-effective at walking. While strong natural pressures have already shaped human locomotion, improvements in efficiency are still possible. Much remains to be learned about this seemingly simple behaviour.

Concepts: Force, Tendon, Potential energy, Walking, Muscle, Human anatomy, Metabolism, Energy


We have proposed and successfully demonstrated a novel approach to direct conversion of mechanical energy into electrical energy using microfluidics. The method combines previously demonstrated reverse electrowetting on dielectric (REWOD) phenomenon with the fast self-oscillating process of bubble growth and collapse. Fast bubble dynamics, used in conjunction with REWOD, provides a possibility to increase the generated power density by over an order of magnitude, as compared to the REWOD alone. This energy conversion approach is particularly well suited for energy harvesting applications and can enable effective coupling to a broad array of mechanical systems including such ubiquitous but difficult to utilize low-frequency energy sources as human and machine motion. The method can be scaled from a single micro cell with 10(-6) W output to power cell arrays with a total power output in excess of 10 W. This makes the fabrication of small light-weight energy harvesting devices capable of producing a wide range of power outputs feasible.

Concepts: Fundamental physics concepts, Mechanical engineering, Energy conservation, Energy conversion, Process, Electrical engineering, Potential energy, Electricity


Climate change is predicted to expand the ice-free season in western Hudson Bay and when it grows to 180 days, 28-48% of adult male polar bears are projected to starve unless nutritional deficits can be offset by foods consumed on land. We updated a dynamic energy budget model developed by Molnar et al. to allow influx of additional energy from novel terrestrial foods (lesser snow geese, eggs, caribou) that polar bears currently consume as part of a mixed diet while on land. We calculated the units of each prey, alone and in combination, needed to alleviate these lethal energy deficits under conditions of resting or limited movement (2 km d-1) prior to starvation. We further considered the total energy available from each sex and age class of each animal prey over the period they would overlap land-bound polar bears and calculated the maximum number of starving adult males that could be sustained on each food during the ice-free season. Our results suggest that the net energy from land-based food, after subtracting costs of limited movement to obtain it, could eliminate all projected nutritional deficits of starving adult male polar bears and likely other demographic groups as well. The hunting tactics employed, success rates as well as behavior and abundance of each prey will determine the realized energetic values for individual polar bears. Although climate change may cause a phenological mismatch between polar bears and their historical ice-based prey, it may simultaneously yield a new match with certain land-based foods. If polar bears can transition their foraging behavior to effectively exploit these resources, predictions for starvation-related mortality may be overestimated for western Hudson Bay. We also discuss potential complications with stable-carbon isotope studies to evaluate utilization of land-based foods by polar bears including metabolic effects of capture-related stress and consuming a mixed diet.

Concepts: Carbohydrate, Potential energy, Kinetic energy, Famine, Polar bear, Energy, Malnutrition, Metabolism


In 2008 the U.S. Department of Energy set a target of 20% wind energy by 2030. To date, induction-based turbines form the mainstay of this effort, but turbines are noisy, perceived as unattractive, a potential hazard to bats and birds, and their height hampers deployment in residential settings. Several groups have proposed that artificial plants containing piezoelectric elements may harvest wind energy sufficient to contribute to a carbon-neutral energy economy. Here we measured energy conversion by cottonwood-inspired piezoelectric leaves, and by a “vertical flapping stalk”-the most efficient piezo-leaf previously reported. We emulated cottonwood for its unusually ordered, periodic flutter, properties conducive to piezo excitation. Integrated over 0°-90° (azimuthal) of incident airflow, cottonwood mimics outperformed the vertical flapping stalk, but they produced < daW per conceptualized tree. In contrast, a modest-sized cottonwood tree may dissipate ~ 80 W via leaf motion alone. A major limitation of piezo-transduction is charge generation, which scales with capacitance (area). We thus tested a rudimentary, cattail-inspired leaf with stacked elements wired in parallel. Power increased systematically with capacitance as expected, but extrapolation to acre-sized assemblages predicts < daW. Although our results suggest that present piezoelectric materials will not harvest mid-range power from botanic mimics of convenient size, recent developments in electrostriction and triboelectric systems may offer more fertile ground to further explore this concept.

Concepts: Conservation of energy, Lead zirconate titanate, Potential energy, Electrostriction, Magnetostriction, Concept, Piezoelectricity, Energy


Background: Concerns have been expressed regarding the potential for caffeinated energy drinks to negatively affect mental health, and particularly so in young consumers at whom they are often targeted. The products are frequently marketed with declarations of increasing mental and physical energy, providing a short-term boost to mood and performance. Although a certain amount of evidence has accumulated to substantiate some of these claims, the chronic effects of energy drinks on mental health also need to be addressed. Methods: To review the relevant literature, PubMed and PsycINFO were searched for all peer-reviewed articles published in English that addressed associations between energy drink use and mental health outcomes. Case reports were also considered, though empirical studies investigating acute mood effects were excluded as a review of such articles had recently been published. Fifty-six articles were retrieved: 20 of these (along with eight more identified through other means) were included in the current review, and, because the majority addressed aspects of stress, anxiety, and depression, particular focus was placed on these outcomes. Results: Though a number of null findings (and one negative relationship) were observed, the majority of studies examined reported positive associations between energy drink consumption and symptoms of mental health problems. Conclusions: Though the findings imply that energy drink use may increase the risk of undesirable mental health outcomes, the majority of research examined utilized cross-sectional designs. In most cases, it was therefore not possible to determine causation or direction of effect. For this reason, longitudinal and intervention studies are required to increase our understanding of the nature of the relationships observed.

Concepts: Potential energy, Psychology, Mental disorder, Coffee, Peer review, Caffeine, Energy drink, Scientific method


Wind turbines convert kinetic to electrical energy, which returns to the atmosphere as heat to regenerate some potential and kinetic energy. As the number of wind turbines increases over large geographic regions, power extraction first increases linearly, but then converges to a saturation potential not identified previously from physical principles or turbine properties. These saturation potentials are >250 terawatts (TW) at 100 m globally, approximately 80 TW at 100 m over land plus coastal ocean outside Antarctica, and approximately 380 TW at 10 km in the jet streams. Thus, there is no fundamental barrier to obtaining half (approximately 5.75 TW) or several times the world’s all-purpose power from wind in a 2030 clean-energy economy.

Concepts: Joule, Kinetic energy, Windmill, Renewable energy, Wind power, Wind turbine, Energy, Potential energy


The sensing of physical force, mechanosensation, underlies two of five human senses-touch and hearing. How transduction of force in a membrane occurs remains unclear. We asked if a biological membrane could employ kinetic energy to transduce a signal absent tension. Here we show that lipid rafts are dynamic compartments that inactivate the signalling enzyme phospholipase D2 (PLD2) by sequestering the enzyme from its substrate. Mechanical disruption of the lipid rafts activates PLD2 by mixing the enzyme with its substrate to produce the signalling lipid phosphatidic acid (PA). We calculate a latency time of <650 μs for PLD activation by mixing. Our results establish a fast, non-tension mechanism for mechanotransduction where disruption of ordered lipids initiates a mechanosensitive signal for cell growth through mechanical mixing.

Concepts: Metabolism, Potential energy, Classical mechanics, Cell membrane, Energy, Diglyceride, Signal transduction, Lipid bilayer