Can the teardrops that fall after reading bad science writing generate renewable electricity? Yes, they can.

15 thoughts on “Can the teardrops that fall after reading bad science writing generate renewable electricity? Yes, they can.”

  1. Raghu:

    1. Regarding your comment, “The combination of poor writing and fundamental unimportance leaves me very surprised that the paper got into Nature, one of the most prestigious scientific journals. Nature is extremely difficult to get published in; who knows what the editors and reviewers were thinking…”: The tabloids (Science, Nature, PNAS) publish lots of bad stuff, including lots that’s fundamentally unimportant! Yes, it’s hard to publish in these papers, but it’s also a bit of a crapshoot. This paper may have been 1 of 100 submissions of that quality to get in, but Nature gets lots of submissions—and, as the saying goes, remember they only have to be lucky once.

    2. Marginal Revolution is a fun blog but they have a track record of promoting published papers and preprints that make big unsupported claims. I think their attitude is that if the findings don’t hold up, it’s no big deal; they’d rather present the exciting news and let later people sort things out. The one place they don’t follow that rule is in their own areas of expertise. If there’s a paper circulating that purports to offer evidence for some fishy claim in economics, then Alex and Tyler are more likely to be skeptical. This can be taken as evidence of division of labor or comparative advantage (apply the work of critical reviewing to that subset of papers that they can most easily assess) or an instance of the familiar principle that people are more conservative about topics they know best.

  2. I too clicked over to the article from Marginal Revolution and found it skimpy on details. Also, admittedly, once I found it lacking, I stopped reading it. But what I assumed was that the energy generated was not coming from the kinetic energy of falling raindrops. I assumed they were somehow collecting the static charge that drops accumulate as they fall through the sky.

    1. I wondered that also (if the device is using accumulated charge), but I don’t think so. The paper specifically mentions triboelectricity, and never mentions droplet charge. But, as I wrote, the paper isn’t very clear! Thanks for the comment. — Raghu

  3. This paper sure sounds bogus, but tribo-electricity is still full of unknowns. Research in the area isn’t completely useless. This paper might be silly, but when they start lining the rivers downstream of hydro-electric dams to produce additional electricity from the water passing, someone else will get to laugh. Hmm, that would solve the whole fish ladder problem. Get rid of the dams altogether, use tribo-generators and have hydro power and free flowing rivers. Maybe someone a lot smarter than I will be inspired.

  4. What about if the rain turned a turbine? I can somehow imagine rain being used to turn the blades of a wind turbine if caught properly. Is that easy to show as unfeasible? It also seems like the longer the blades are the faster they would turn if pushed down at their tips… What am I missing?

  5. What about if the rain turned a turbine? I can somehow imagine rain being used to turn the blades of a wind turbine if caught properly. Is that easy to show as unfeasible? It also seems like the longer the blades are the faster they would turn if pushed down at their tips… What am I missing?

    1. Thanks for writing. It’s the same issue, *regardless* of what mechanism is used to “capture” the energy. The fundamental law of the universe that energy can be transformed from one form to another, and isn’t created or destroyed, means that the kinetic energy in the falling drops is all the energy that’s available for converting into anything else. It doesn’t matter if you use a turbine, a triboelectric crystal, or anything else.

  6. Thank you for a no-nonsense debunking. It is an uphill battle, I know. However we should at least consider practical applications before ruling out usefulness. With 10 mW/sq.m we could conceivably light a single LED with 2.0V forward voltage at 20mA with the collected rainfall from 4 square meters. I don’t know if this could be useful for anything, but it makes me picture someone squinting while reading Bertrand Russell in poor light in a small hut during heavy rainfall. But only during an atomic winter with almost no daylight as a small solar panel with a small battery would generally be a much better choice.

  7. Do you have any source for the claim that a monkey could generate 100 W of electricity with a hand-crank? I’m dubious, given that human cyclists struggle to achieve more than 300W, and that’s with conditioned human-sized legs, not monkey-sized arms.

    1. You’re technically correct — I didn’t actually look up the metabolic rate of monkeys. The average value for humans (2000 Calories / 24 hours) is close to 100 Watts. Very quickly looking into it, rhesus monkeys are around 30-50 Watts (https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/88/1/16/2845990, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/management-and-nutrition/nutrition-exotic-and-zoo-animals/nutrition-in-primates), converting kcal/day into Watts. I don’t know what their peak power is. Anyway, you’d need a few monkeys, but not hundreds!

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