Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Tiny levers, big moves in piezoelectric sensors

A team of university researchers, aided by scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), have succeeded in integrating a new, highly efficient piezoelectric material into a silicon microelectromechanical system (MEMS).* This development could lead to significant advances in sensing, imaging and energy harvesting.

A piezoelectric material, such as quartz, expands slightly when fed electricity and, conversely, generates an electric charge when squeezed. Quartz watches take advantage of this property to keep time: electricity from the watch's battery causes a piece of quartz to expand and contract inside a small chamber at a specific frequency that circuitry in the watch translates into time.

Piezoelectric materials are also in sensors in sonar and ultrasound systems, which use the same principle in reverse to translate sound waves into images of, among other things, fetuses in utero and fish under the water.

Although conventional piezoelectric materials work fairly well for many applications, researchers have long sought to find or invent new ones that expand more and more forcefully and produce stronger electrical signals. More reactive materials would make for better sensors and could enable new technologies such as "energy harvesting," which would transform the energy of walking and other mechanical motions into electrical power.

Enter a material named PMN-PT.**

A large team led by scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison developed a way to incorporate PMN-PT into tiny, diving-board like cantilevers on a silicon base, a typical material for MEMS construction, and demonstrated that PMN-PT could deliver two to four times more movement with stronger force -- while using only 3 volts -- than most rival materials studied to date. It also generates a similarly strong electric charge when compressed, which is good news for those in the sensing and energy harvesting businesses.

To confirm that the experimental observations were due to the piezoelectric's performance, NIST researcher Vladimir Aksyuk developed engineering models of the cantilevers to estimate how much they would bend and at what voltage. Aksyuk also made other performance measures in comparison to silicon systems that achieve similar effects using electrostatic attraction.

"Silicon is good for these systems, but it is passive and can only move if heated or using electrostatics, which requires high voltage or large dissipated power," says Aksyuk. "Our work shows definitively that the addition of PMN-PT to MEMS designed for sensing or as energy harvesters will provide a tremendous boost to their sensitivity and efficiency. A much bigger 'bend for your buck,' I guess you could say."

Other participants included researchers from Penn State University; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Michigan; Cornell University; and Argonne National Laboratory.

* S.H. Baek, J.Park, D.M. Kim, V.A. Aksyuk, R.R. Das, S.D. Bu, D.A. Felker, J. Lettieri, V. Vaithyanathan, S.S.N. Bharadwaja, N. Bassiri-Gharb, Y.B. Chen, H.P. Sun, C.M. Folkman, H.W. Jang, D.J. Kreft, S.K. Streiffer, R. Ramesh, X.Q. Pan, S. Trolier-McKinstry, D.G. Schlom, M.S. Rzchowski, R.H. Blick and C.B. Eom. Giant piezoelectricity on Si for hyperactive MEMS. Science. Published Nov. 18, 2011. Vol. 334 no. 6058 pp. 958-961. DOI: 10.1126/science.1207186.

** A crystalline alloy of lead, magnesium niobate and lead titanate.

Mark Esser | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Solid progress in carbon capture
27.10.2016 | King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST)

nachricht Greater Range and Longer Lifetime
26.10.2016 | Technologie Lizenz-Büro (TLB) der Baden-Württembergischen Hochschulen GmbH

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Solid progress in carbon capture

27.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>