Anatoly Frenkel, professor of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering at Stony Brook’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, recently published a paper in Nature Communications about a potentially safer, more efficient material source for sensors and other electronic devices. Frenkel was part of a three-PI team that co-led the work, including Prof. Igor Lubomirsky of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science and Prof. Yue Qi of Brown University.
“Many ceramic-based materials, such as pure and doped cerium oxides, have been used as catalysts in chemical reactions for decades,” said Frenkel. “In this work, our team discovered that this material can play a completely different role, potentially giving rise to a host of exciting new applications.”
The paper describes a material, called an electrostrictor, that converts electrical energy into mechanical energy more efficiently and without relying on lead, a toxic chemical common in most similar devices currently available.
Electro-mechanically active materials (piezoelectrics and electrostrictors) are found in many ubiquitous devices like cell phones and computers as well as complicated sonars. These materials convert the energy of the power source into precise and fast motion, enabling the functionality of optics, fuel and drug injection devices, to mention just a few.
Currently, the best commercially-available electrostrictors rely on lead, which causes serious health problems in adults and children. Unfortunately, removing lead from these devices is impractical. Therefore, replacing the lead-based materials with the newly invented one, reported on in this article, could stop hundreds of tons of lead from reaching landfills annually. The authors found that putting zirconium in electrostrictors generates mechanical energy much more efficiently and removes the risk lead poses to human health.
“The paper,” said Lubomirsky, “built on the team’s earlier work and has been years in the making.”
“Theory was an essential component in this research,” said Qi, “by not only explaining experimental data, but providing a new mechanism for the role of zirconium for mechanical energy generation.”
The research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
“This groundbreaking material introduces novel possibilities for enhancing the efficiency and safety of devices and tools,” said Dilip Gersappe, professor and chair of the Materials Science and Chemical Engineering Department. “The research not only holds immense potential to benefit society immediately but also paves the way for future discoveries. All of us take great pride in Anatoly and his colleagues’ contributions to advancing our understanding in this field.”