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Technique to 3D Print Flexible Piezoelectric Materials Could Enable Intelligent Infrastructure

Piezoelectric materials convert strain and stress into electric charges; conventional piezoelectrics come in only a few defined shapes and are made of brittle crystal and ceramic. Now, mechanical engineers from Virginia Tech have developed a technique to 3D print flexible piezoelectric materials that can be custom-designed to convert stress, impact, and movement from any direction into electrical energy. The materials can be printed in many shapes and sizes and can also be activated, to provide smart materials for applications like tactile sensing, energy harvesting, and vibration monitoring. The researchers see applications in intelligent infrastructure, where a structure is made with piezoelectric material to sense impacts and vibrations, and have printed a small smart bridge to demonstrate its applicability.