Gallium nitride (GaN) and zinc oxide (ZnO) are among the most technologically relevant semiconducting materials. Gallium nitride is ubiquitous today in optoelectronic elements such as blue lasers (hence the blue-ray disc) and light-emitting-diodes (LEDs); zinc oxide also finds many uses in optoelectronics and sensors.
In the past few years, though, nanostructures made of these materials have shown a plethora of potential functionalities, ranging from single-nanowire lasers and LEDs to more complex devices such as resonators and, more recently, nanogenerators that convert mechanical energy from the environment (body movements, for example) to power electronic devices. The latter application relies on the fact that GaN and ZnO are also piezoelectric materials, meaning that they produce electric charges as they are deformed.
In a paper published online in the journal Nano Letters, Horacio Espinosa, the James N. and Nancy J. Farley Professor in Manufacturing and Entrepreneurship at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University, and Ravi Agrawal, a graduate student in Espinosa's lab, reported that piezoelectricity in GaN and ZnO nanowires is in fact enhanced by as much as two orders of magnitude as the diameter of the nanowires decrease.
"This finding is very exciting because it suggests that constructing nanogenerators, sensors and other devices from smaller nanowires will greatly improve their output and sensitivity," Espinosa said.
"We used a computational method called Density Functional Theory (DFT) to model GaN and ZnO nanowires of diameters ranging from 0.6 nanometers to 2.4 nanometers," Agrawal said. The computational method is able to predict the electronic distribution of the nanowires as they are deformed and, therefore, allows calculating their piezoelectric coefficients.
The researchers' results show that the piezoelectric coefficient in 2.4 nanometer-diameter nanow
|Contact: Megan Fellman|