News Sabati Out of a hunger for knowledge, Tarragona, 46, began studying physics and soon began to devote himself to applied sciences. “I started wondering a lot why and ended up dedicating myself to how,” explains a teacher Barcelona Institute of Microelectronics. His great achievement was the development of paper-based biodegradable batteries for single-use devices, which activate when they come into contact with a liquid to be analyzed, such as saliva. In addition to being a researcher, she decided to move into the world of entrepreneurship and in 2015 founded the company Veolium, where you can buy these batteries. Despite this, Sabati considers herself at first a scientist and then a businesswoman. He has received many awards and grants, such as Consolidator Grants from the European Research Council (ERC). Among the awards that were awarded to him in the Physics, Technology and Innovation Award in the 2020 edition, which were delivered in December by its organizers: Royal Spanish Society of Physics and the BBVA . Foundation. In addition to his career, the jury highlights creativity in the field of biodegradable batteries.
Sabaté, along with Juan Pablo Esquivel, spent years researching batteries and power sources until they decided to focus on portable devices. At that point, the researcher ran a digital pregnancy test and realized she was carrying a button battery. That’s when the scientists debated what it meant to use this button cell for a single-use device and found that only a fraction of the energy it contained was wasted. Therefore, they suggested using urine or another biological fluid to generate energy for analysis. In this way, they can “leave the silicon, glass, and substrates we’re working on to the paper.” “It makes perfect sense,” he notes, “that the same energy source would be incorporated into the paper.” The main problem, according to the scientist, is that the naturally developed electronics adapt to these power sources, in which case it would be different: the battery is the one that is adapted and made to measure for the application for which it is going to power.
“With these batteries what we do is deconstruction. Since we were aware of the chemical reactions available, we looked for the mildest reactions and combined some very benign reaction electrodes into a paper form. So the liquid that goes through the paper acts as an electrolyte. For a battery to contain an electrolyte, It must simply contain a liquid with salts in it, that is, a conductor; biological fluids are ideal because they are salty,” he explained. The main applications are in the field of diagnosis, such as pregnancy tests, medicines or infectious diseases. Next, they raised the possibility that their technology could be used in molecular testing, something that has become very clear with the coronavirus. Currently, the researcher explains that the problem of diagnosis requires a lot of regulation and that is why the first market in which they actually sell their batteries is in cosmetics. However, he hopes to reach a diagnosis in a few years.
Before the pandemic arrived, the researcher was already in talks with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to apply these batteries in the Third World, especially for infectious diseases, because that’s where they “really have the biggest social impact.” But that doesn’t mean it can’t be very useful in the West: “Here we also have a problem with electronic devices, the next wave of garbage will be. Everyone has plastic in mind, but the next thing is what we do with the fact that our electronics are refurbished a lot or let the devices single-use devices that carry a lot of electronics in batteries,” he explains.
In addition to developing and using biodegradable single-use batteries, the researcher and her team succeeded in converting the modification of these batteries into a sweat conductivity sensor. This is a product In itselfWith which you will establish a new company. These patches are used to screen for cystic fibrosis in infants and dehydration in runners. These patches have already been tested at the largest children’s hospital in Barcelona and the results qualify as “very, very good”.
“It seems to me urgent that the political class sees that industry can be created through research and that this is what must be promoted in applied sciences”
Regarding the obstacles he overcame to get to where he is today, Sabati deplores the difficulty of being a scientist in Spain due to the “few resources that exist”. In addition, he criticizes that in the system “there are certain paths” through which “a lot of talent” is lost if you do not go through them. “It seems urgent to me that the political class sees that industry can be generated through research and that this is what should be promoted in applied sciences,” he says.
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