Have a Change of Heart; Become a
Cardiac pacemakers have come a long way since 1950 when engineer, John Hopps designed and built an
external pacing device that was driven by vacuum tubes and
powered from an AC wall socket. Not only was the device
painful to the patient, it offered the possibility of electrocution
as a bonus. Today, most pacemakers are implantable, about
the size of two or three 50 cent pieces, and powered by
lithium batteries. Still, modern devices have some negative
qualities, including the need for implantation surgery, possible
damage to surrounding tissue, and an average battery life of
only about seven years. The newest versions (not yet approved
for commercial use in the USA) have been miniaturized to the
size of a large vitamin tablet and are placed directly into the
heart via a catheter inserted in the femoral vein. However,
some of the same risks remain.
To avoid such issues, researchers at Lehigh University
( www1.lehigh.edu) are working on a new approach which is
based on optogenetics (i.e., using light to control living cells).
The fundamental principle is based on modifying the genes in
heart muscle cells so they react with light, and stimulating
them with light to set the desired pace. So far, the research has
involved fruit flies instead of people — a valid approach given
that the two species share about 75 percent of genes that are
related to heart disease.
First, they modified the hearts with a rhodopsin (similar to
the photoreceptors in green algae). They then stimulated the
heart tissue using a laser to penetrate the bug’s thin body
walls. In all three of their life stages (larva, pupa, and adult), the
device worked as designed and caused no damage.
Transferring the technology to humans presents some
problems, including how to shine light into our much thicker
chest cavity and the need to genetically modify our hearts. If
you’re terrified of a genetically modified potato, you probably
won’t want to become a GMO yourself. The developers
remain optimistic, however, that eventually a way will be found
to use the technique (possibly using infrared light) in people.
ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY Motor Boosts Efficiency
Electric motors don’t change much — especially when it comes to evaporator fan motors such as used in the
commercial refrigeration industry. Most of them are based on
the AC induction (shaded pole) motor, first demonstrated in
the 1880s. Then, in the 1960s, someone finally noticed that
induction motors are only about 20 percent energy efficient.
This led to the development of the electronically
commutated motor (ECM) as an alternative, and they are
about 60 percent efficient. This is a major improvement but
— because a lot of wasted energy is still lost in the form of
heat — a system is still constantly fighting with itself.
Fortunately, a new design was announced last
September, developed by inventor Joe Flynn and QM Power
Okay, sure, that sounds like the usual marketing hype,
but the Department of Energy has decided that the Q-Sync
deserves to be categorized as a “High-Impact Technology”
and intends to work with the company, OEMs, supermarkets,
contractors, and utilities to install more than 10,000 of them
in 50+ grocery sites over the next year. A recently released
report by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory concluded that
replacing existing motors could save businesses $517 million
a year in energy costs, reduce demand on the power grid by
around 600 megawatts, and cut annual carbon dioxide
emissions by four million tons. Plus, by expanding Q-Sync
implementation into other areas, energy consumption could
be reduced by at least 300 billion kilowatt-hours. (To
download a copy of the ORNL report, go to
■ BY JEFF ECKERT TECHKNOWLEDGEY 2016
8 March 2016
■ Heart rhythm of fruit flies, regulated by light.
■ Inventor Joe Flynn with a pair
of Q-Sync motors.