By Lee Teschler
If you’ve used an ink-jet printer or a tiny hearing aid, chances are those devices have employed lead-zirconium-titanium oxide (PZT, Pb(Zr,Ti)O3) piezoelectric ceramics as a means of generating ink droplets and amplified audio. These and numerous other applications have long used actuators and sensors employing piezoelectric materials which deform in response to an applied electric field.
One problem with existing devices is that they tend to use either lead, which can be environmentally troublesome, or somewhat exotic materials such as terbium, dysprosium or gallium. However, new research coming out of Penn State, the University of Missouri and the University of Singapore has found material that not only avoids the use of such materials but also exhibits a much higher piezoelectric effect.