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University of Houston researchers offer solution for the future of electric powerhouse

Jessica Yang

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HOUSTON — In a paper published this month, researchers from the University of Houston and Air Force Research Laboratory demonstrate how common substances like silicone rubber can be engineered into an electric powerhouse.

Some materials in nature can significantly change in size and shape when an electrical signal is sent through or supply electricity when manipulated. That is the general idea of piezoelectricity, which is useful for things like sensors or even e-cigs. However, these naturally occurring materials, like quartz or tourmaline, are rare and are often toxic. This renders their use difficult for humans.

Kosar Mozaffari, a graduate student at the Cullen College of Engineering at the University of Houston, and his colleagues offered a solution.

“This theory engineers a connection between electricity and mechanical motion in soft rubber-like materials, while some polymers are weakly piezoelectric, there are no really soft rubber like materials that are piezoelectric.” Mozaffari commented, “Flexoelectricity [the ability of a material to generate electricity and change form when electrified] in most soft rubber materials is quite weak, but by rearranging the chains in unit cells on a molecular level, our theory shows that soft elastomers can attain a greater flexoelectricity of nearly 104 times the conventional amount.”

“For some applications we require certain amounts of electricity to be generated regardless of the stretch deformation, whereas with other applications we desire as much electricity generation as possible, and we have designed for both of these cases,” he added.

In simpler terms, the amount of electric power generated from various physical stimulation can be regulated so that devices perform specific actions, which can moderate the functioning of self-sufficient electronic devices.

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