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3D Printing Piezoelectric Materials

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Researchers from Virginia Tech have created a new way to 3D print piezoelectric materials. The new technology allows the materials to be designed into devices that can convert movement into energy. Scientists believe this could be a new innovation in the field of smart materials.

Piezoelectric materials take movement, stress, and strain, and convert it into electrical energy. They only have a few defined shapes, and are actually quite delicate — they’re composed of ceramic and a brittle crystal. Because of this, manufacturing them can prove tricky at best.

It’s also extremely expensive, as the procedure itself is quite complex. Also, the technology requires a clean room in order for the piezoelectric materials to be correctly manufactured. Scientists believe their method will help significantly cut down on both the time and space previously needed to create this material.

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The new technology provides several advantages over previous versions. 3D printing the material means scientists are not restricted by shape or size, and can adjust the material as needed for specific applications. Additionally, the material has the ability to be activated, which could prove an enormous benefit for the advancement of smart materials.

The new model gives scientists the power to adjust and design the material as needed. This allows them to control both the shape of the object, as well as the electric charge movement it will generate.

While traditional piezoelectric materials have their electric charge movements determined by the crystals themselves, the new method turns that on its head. Scientists can now program and adjust voltage responses in any direction, giving them unsurpassed control of this notoriously trick material.

Scientists believe they could use the new piezoelectric materials for impact and vibration monitoring, tactile sensing, and energy harvesting, to name just a few applications. Currently, they are exploring all the different ways they can utilize this technology — including a whole new breed of high-tech wearable devices.

“We have a team making them into wearable devices, like rings, insoles, and fitting them into a boxing glove where we will be able to record impact forces and monitor the health of the user.”

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Xiaoyu ‘Rayne’ Zheng, assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering


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