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Grant to Help Further Study of Nanoscale Piezoelectric Effect
August 26, 2008
By
Erin D. McKenzie

Funds from a nearly $400,000 grant received by two mechanical engineering professors could help researchers better understand the origins of the super-charged piezoelectric effect at the nanoscale.

Building on research he’s already conducting, Pradeep Sharma, Bill D. Cook associate professor of mechanical engineering and physics, along with co-investigator Ken White, professor of mechanical engineering, will attempt to pinpoint the material properties allowing researchers to generate an increased electric charge from two non-piezoelectric materials.

Naturally occurring, piezoelectrics generate electricity when placed under stress. While plentiful, these naturally occurring piezoelectrics—widely used in cellular phones to produce the vibration function—are much weaker than those combined at the nanoscale by Sharma and his other team of researchers.

“Unlike my other research, where we actually make the materials, here we are trying to evaluate their material properties and coming up with measurements and techniques assessing it,” said Sharma of the three-year grant received this summer from the National Science Foundation.

Sharma and White plan to use a method called nanoindentation to help test the mechanical properties of these materials. Here, the two will use atomic force microscopy to view the materials—less than one-billionth of a meter in size—and make indentations that will aid in the evaluation of the material’s hardness. Theoretical work by Sharma has uncovered links between the indentation behavior, or the hardness of the materials, and the size-dependent super-charged piezoelectric behavior of the materials.

Though still in the early stages, Sharma said the work could allow the two engineers to better understand the effect, in turn aiding Sharma’s initial research predicted to one day help create a more flexible artificial limb or allow airplanes to mimic birds in flight.

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