Much like humans, materials are capable of some pretty remarkable things when they're placed under pressure. In fact, under the right conditions, materials can even produce electricity.
Driven by the vision of our society one day being basically self-propelled, a team of University of Houston scientists has set out to both amplify and provoke that potential in materials known as piezoelectrics, which naturally produce electricity when literally subjected to strain. The goal is to use piezoelectrics to create nanodevices that can power electronics, such as cell phones, MP3 players and even biomedical implants.
"Nanodevices using piezoelectric materials will be light, environmentally friendly and draw on inexhaustible energy supplies," says associate professor Pradeep Sharma, one of the creative minds at the Cullen College of Engineering running two projects on piezoelectrics. "Imagine a sensor on the wing of a plane or a satellite. Do we really want to change its battery every time its power source gets exhausted? Hard-to-access devices could be self-powered."
Piezoelectric materials convert mechanical energy into electrical energy, Sharma explains.
"Indeed, gas lighters used in most homes are based on this," he says. "These future piezoelectric nanodevices will also generate an electrical current in response to mechanical stimuli. Then, the energy will be stored in batteries or, even better, in nanocapacitors for use when needed."
Although piezoelectrics have been used for many years, Sharma's team is exploring new possibilities by beefing up the effect in natural piezoelectrics. Doing so requires understanding the phenomenon that spurs piezoelectricity, known as "flexoelectricity."
"Flexoelectricity, at the nanoscale, allows you to coax ordinary material to behave like a piezoelectric one. Perhaps more importantly, this phenomenon exists in materials that are already piezoelectric. You can make the effe
|Contact: Angela Hopp|
University of Houston