Car batteries run on relativity


YOU’VE got relativity to thank every time your car starts. The transfer of electrons during a chemical reaction in lead-acid car batteries produces a potential of more than 2 volts. Yet for tin, which sits just above lead in the periodic table, a similar reaction is too feeble to power a battery. Now Pekka Pyykkö at the University of Helsinki in Finland and colleagues calculate that the difference is mainly due to relativity. Electrons whiz around the heavier lead nucleus at 60 per cent the speed of light, much faster than in lighter tin. At those high speeds,
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