Study discovers amazing electrical properties in polymers

September 23, 2011

( -- Crystals and ceramics pale when compared to a material researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory discovered that has 10 times their piezoelectric effect, making it suitable for perhaps hundreds of everyday uses.

ORNL's Volker Urban and colleagues at Technical University Aachen in Germany noticed the reverse piezoelectric effect - defined as creating a by applying an -- while conducting fundamental research on polymers. At first they didn't think about their observations in terms of classic , but then they became more curious.

"We thought about comparing the effects that we observed to more 'classic' piezoelectric materials and were surprised by how large the effects were by comparison," said Urban, a member of the Department of Energy lab's Neutron Scattering Science Division.

Until now, scientists did not believe that non-polar polymers were capable of exhibiting any piezoelectric effect, which occurs only in non-conductive materials. This research, however, shows up to 10 times the measured electro-active response as compared to the strongest known piezoelectric materials, typically crystals and ceramics.

"We observed this effect when two different like polystyrene and rubber are coupled as two blocks in a di-block copolymer," Urban said.

Temperature-dependent studies of the molecular structure revealed an intricate balance of the repulsion between the unlike blocks and an elastic restoring force found in rubber. The electric field adds a third force that can shift the intricate balance, leading to the piezoelectric effect.

"The extraordinarily large response could revolutionize the field of electro-active devices," said Urban, who listed a number of examples, including sensors, actuators, , power sources and . Urban also noted that additional potential uses are likely as word of this discovery gets out and additional research is performed.

"Ultimately, we're not sure where this finding will take us, but at the very least it provides a fundamentally new perspective in polymer science," Urban said.

The paper, titled "Piezoelectric Properties of Non-Polar Block Copolymers," was published recently as the cover article in Advanced Materials.

Explore further: Modern ceramics help advance technology

Related Stories

Modern ceramics help advance technology

May 8, 2008

Many important electronic devices used by people today would be impossible without the use of ceramics. A new study published in the Journal of the American Ceramic Society illustrates the use of ceramic materials in the ...

Lead-free piezoelectric materials of the future

September 14, 2010

Piezoelectric materials have fantastic properties: squeeze them and they generate an electrical field. And vice-versa, they contract or expand when jolted with an electrical pulse. With a name derived from the Greek word ...

Recommended for you

New 'self-healing' gel makes electronics more flexible

November 25, 2015

Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a first-of-its-kind self-healing gel that repairs and connects electronic circuits, creating opportunities to advance the ...

Atom-sized craters make a catalyst much more active

November 24, 2015

Bombarding and stretching an important industrial catalyst opens up tiny holes on its surface where atoms can attach and react, greatly increasing its activity as a promoter of chemical reactions, according to a study by ...

Getting under the skin of a medieval mystery

November 23, 2015

A simple PVC eraser has helped an international team of scientists led by bioarchaeologists at the University of York to resolve the mystery surrounding the tissue-thin parchment used by medieval scribes to produce the first ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Sep 23, 2011
Woah.....piezoelectric tires :)
..artificial muscles...*drool*

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.