A long-range ferroelectric domain with nanoscale structure heterogeneity (4-8 nm) is evidenced by high-resolution TEM. (Credit: Fei Li/Penn State)

Development of a theoretical basis for ultrahigh piezoelectricity in ferroelectric materials has led to a new material with twice the piezo response of any existing commercial ferroelectric ceramics.

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.

That device, called a needle transducer, uses a submillimeter piezoelectric element of the material, fitted into a standard needle or catheter, in order to perform minimally invasive procedures, to image inside the body or to guide precision surgery inside the body. The device has better performance than existing devices with the same dimensions.

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