Harnessing the untapped power of breast motion.
"Definitely," Wang said.
I asked Wang if this bra would be machine-washable.
"You don't need to wash a bra!" he said.
I disagreed. Wang said his team has been working on the washing problem for a while. Nanowire technology can generate electricity only if the space between the wires is maintained, and that space might be affected if the fabric were agitated by washing. One solution would be to layer the fabric so that the parts that directly touch the skin could be washed, leaving the nanowires in between untouched.
There was one more approach I wanted to investigate, one that might supplement Wang's technology. Was there a way to capture the energy of the bra strap, which bears the pressure of holding up the breast mass? To answer this question, I called Larry Rome, a biology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the creator of Lightning Packs. The Lightning Pack, intended for long-haul hikers and for the military, generates kinetic energy from the vertical displacement of a heavy backpack. Would it be possible to use the kinetic energy generated from a breast's vertical displacement?
"The backpacks we've built are intended to carry between 40 to 80 pounds," Rome said.
I cited the D-cup numbers given to me by Lawson. "Well, that's not normal, is it?" Rome asked.
I said that it probably wasn't. Yet after a moment's thought, Rome came up with an idea. The Lightning Pack uses a rotary generator, which converts motion into energy by winding a rotor as the backpack moves up and down. Rotary generators produce up to 7 watts of energy, enough to power a compact fluorescent light bulb. Rome said it might be possible to insert a linear generator into the bra. A linear generator is a lot smaller and creates energy by moving a piston up and down. Rome conceded that with the right body type, this just might work, though he warned it "probably wouldn't be very comfortable."
Still, if someone were to engineer a kinetically powered bra, even one that isn't quite as comfortable as the old-fashioned kind, I'd be intrigued—and I might just start looking at my breasts in a different light. Maybe it's not very sexy to see breasts as a pair of batteries, but oil prices are so high, people are jogging to work. It may be time for breasts to start pulling their own weight.
Adrienne So is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. Find her work at adrienneso.com.
Illustration by Rob Donnelly.