Nasty, brutish and short. These three, somewhat terse words, were how that great old brain box Thomas Hobbes described the lives of the general populace Europe in1651. While referring more to “no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear,” the point can also apply generally to the days before the onset of the Enlightenment with its advances in understanding the days of witch burnings and barber-surgeons ending for good and what would become modern science having its beginnings, though still largely thought to be a secondary to alchemy. It is not much of an exaggeration either.

Much of what has improved human life, including and particularly in terms of prolonging it, has been as a result of the advancement of medical science and equipment. There were some crazy ideas – milk treating ulcers etc – and dangerous ideas particularly in the terms of mental health – electro-shock anyone? – as there are in any field but for the most part the medical science field has been more or less for the positive where and when it has been available. ‘Where’, ‘when’ and ‘available’ being the operative words.

There is a reason why, as recently as the late-1940s and early-1950s infected wounds were among the top causes among soldiers of developed nations, not the bullets or bombs themselves and some of the less developed nations of the world are not known for their top quality medical facilities. To be fair, most of them do their best with what they have and the reason they don’t have much of what they need comes more down to logistics than anything else.

The simple fact of the matter is that much of the equipment used by hospitals from the MRI machines to the lights were designed and developed after the introduction of electricity and it is rather difficult to run them without it. This can pose a problem in situations in which electricity can be difficult to come by.

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Now there could be a solution to the age of problem of how to run electrical medical equipment with the help of electricity, that could help make lives even less nasty brutish and short, another example of technology and altruism trumping the more base aspects of human life and nature. Researchers at Binghamton University in Binghamton, NY including Seokheun Choi, have developed a battery made out of paper that can be used anywhere in the most recent example of a new form of technology known as papertronics.

How this revolutionary paper battery works

The design is fairly simple, the device having the overall appearance of a construction paper solar panel. It is done by laying ribbons of silver nitrate along a piece of chromatography paper and adding a layer of wax, there by making a cathode, acting as the positive electrode (every battery needing both a positive and negative electrode). The negative electrode goes on the other side and is made up of a bit of conductive polymer, leaping into action as soon as some drops of wastewater are introduced, and the battery not only being made of paper, but running on bacteria. Exactly how much power available depends largely on how many of the batteries are being used at once, though they are designed in such a way that up to six of them can, which will conduct 44.85 microwatts at 105.89 microamps.

What it means

Mostly that life-saving medical equipment can now be used or better used in underfunded hospitals, unfunded ‘illegal’ hospitals in some of the more authoritarian corners of the world and pack-up-and-move mobile emergency hospitals including those used by many of the world’s armed forces all with a ‘simple’ paper battery.

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Trevor McNeil spent much of his childhood playing video-games on early-form personal computers back when the disks were literally floppy. He attended the University of Victoria, completing a degree in Social Science with a concentration in Technology In Society, while also writing for the campus newspaper. He has written articles for such diverse publications as Humanity Death Watch, PopMatters and Perfect Sound Forever. He is a veteran of numerous “watershed moments” in the history of technological development and firmly believes that Han shot first.

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