[Illinois] Nano-EP Seminar Series: Nanogenerators and piezotronics - from basic science to novel applications

By Zhong Lin Wang

Materials Science and Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA

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Developing wireless nanodevices and nanosystems is of critical importance for sensing, medical science, environmental/infrastructure monitoring, defense technology and even personal electronics. It is highly desirable for wireless devices to be self-powered without using battery. We have developed nanogenerators based on piezoelectric, trioboelectric and pyroelectric effect, aiming at seeking self-sufficient power sources for mico/nano-systems. The output of the nanogenerators is now high enough to drive a wireless sensor system and charge a battery for a cell phone.

For wurtzite structures that have non-central symmetry, such as ZnO, GaN and InN, a piezoelectric potential (piezopotential) is created in the crystal by applying a strain. Such piezopotential can serve as a "gate" voltage that can effectively tune/control the charge transport across an interface/junction; electronics fabricated based on such a mechanism is coined as piezotronics, with applications in force/pressure triggered/controlled electronic devices, sensors, logic units and memory. By using the piezotronic effect, we show that the optoelectronc devices fabricated using wurtzite materials can have superior performance as solar cell, photon detector and light emitting diode. Piezotronics is likely to serve as a "mechanosensation" for directly interfacing biomechanical action with silicon based technology and active flexible electronics. This lecture will focus on the fundamental science and novel applications of nanogenerators and piezotronics.

From the research group's website:
"Ever since the wide range applications of laptop computers and cell phones, seeking of power sources for driving portable electronics is becoming increasingly important. The current technology mainly relies on rechargeable batteries. But for the near future, micro/nano-systems will be widely used in health monitoring, infrastructure and environmental monitoring, internet of things and defense technologies; the traditional batteries may not meet or may not be the choice as power sources for the following reasons. First, with the increasing shrinkage in size, the size of the total micro/nano-systems could be largely dominated by the size of the battery rather than the devices. Second, the number and density of micro/nano-systems to be used for sensor network could be large, thus, replacing batteries for these mobile devices are becoming challenging and even impractical. Lastly, the power needed to drive a micro/nano-system is rather small, in the range of micro- to milli-Watt range. To meet these technological challenges, Wang proposed the self-powering nanotechnology in 2005, aiming at harvesting energy from the environment to power the micro/nano-systems based sensor network. After 6 years of effort, we have extensively developed the science, engineering and technology related to nanogenerator as a sustainable self-sufficient power source for micro/nano-systems by harvesting energy from our body and living environment. We initiated the research for self-powered system in 2005, which is now a very attractive field of research worldwide. Our research aims at solving the power needs for small electronics, with applications in personal/mobile electronics, medical care/sciences, environmental/infrastructure monitoring and other related fields.
Piezoelectricity, a phenomenon known for centuries, is an effect that is about the production of electrical potential in a substance as the pressure on it changes. The most well-known material that has piezoelectric effect is the perovskite structured Pb(Zr, Ti)O3 (PZT), which has found huge applications in electromechanical sensors, actuators and energy generators. But PZT is an electric insulator and it is less useful for building electronic devices. Wurtzite structures, such as ZnO, GaN, InN and ZnS, also have piezoelectric properties but they are not extensively used as much as PZT in piezoelectric sensors and actuators due to their small piezoelectric coefficients. In fact, due to the polarization of ions in a crystal that has non-central symmetry, a piezoelectric potential (piezopotential) is created in the crystal by applying a stress. For materials such as ZnO, GaN, InN in the wurtzite structure family, the effect of piezopotential to the transport behavior of charge carriers is significant due to their multiple functionalities of piezoelectricity, semiconductor and photon excitation. By utilizing the advantages offered by these properties, a few new fields have been created. Electronics fabricated by using inner-crystal piezopotential as a "gate" voltage to tune/control the charge transport behavior is named piezotronics, which was first coined by Wang in 2006. Devices fabricated using the piezotronic effect are distinctly different from those realized through traditional CMOS technologies in principle, design and applications. Piezotronics will have important applications in human-CMOS interfacing, micro/nano-electromechanical systems, nanorobotics, next generation of sensor and transducers, smart electronics, flexible electronics and many more. "


"Dr. Wang has made original and innovative contributions to the synthesis, discovery, characterization and understanding of fundamental physical properties of oxide nanobelts and nanowires, as well as applications of nanowires in energy sciences, electronics, optoelectronics and biological science. He is the leader figure in ZnO nanostructure research. His discovery and breakthroughs in developing nanogenerators establish the principle and technological road map for harvesting mechanical energy from environment and biological systems for powering a personal electronics. His research on self-powered nanosystems has inspired the worldwide effort in academia and industry for studying energy for micro-nano-systems, which is now a distinct disciplinary in energy research and future sensor networks. He coined and pioneered the field of piezotronics and piezo-phototronics by introducing piezoelectric potential gated charge transport process in fabricating new electronic and optoelectronic devices. This historical breakthrough by redesign CMOS transistor has important applications in smart MEMS/NEMS, nanorobotics, human-electronics interface and sensors. Wang also invented and pioneered the in-situ technique for measuring the mechanical and electrical properties of a single nanotube/nanowire inside a transmission electron microscope (TEM)."

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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Zhong Lin Wang (2012), "[Illinois] Nano-EP Seminar Series: Nanogenerators and piezotronics - from basic science to novel applications," http://nanohub.org/resources/16002.

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