The development of a theoretical basis for ultra-high piezoelectricity in ferroelectric materials has led to a new material with twice the piezo-response of any existing commercial ferroelectric ceramics, according to an international team of researchers from Penn State, China and Australia. Piezoelectricity is the material property at the heart of medical ultrasound, sonar, active vibration control, and many sensors and actuators. A piezoelectric material has the ability to mechanically deform when an electric voltage is applied or to generate electric charge when a mechanical force is applied.
Adding small amounts of a carefully selected rare earth material, samarium, to a high-performance piezoelectric ceramic called lead magnesium niobate-lead titanate (PMN-PT) dramatically increases its piezo performance, the researchers recently reported in Nature Materials. The team believes that this materials-by-design strategy will be useful in designing materials for other applications as well.