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Georgia Tech’s Zhong-Lin Wang was a plenary speaker at the recent 35th International Conference on Advanced Ceramics and Composites. There, I was able to catch up to him and ask him about his efforts in a field he calls piezoelectronics. Wang has been researching the use of zinc-oxide piezoelectric materials in semiconductor applications, where the piezo material serves as the gate between the p- and n- regions in complementary metal-oxide semiconductor technology. In brief, the strain on the piezo material can alter the charge transport between the p- and n-interfaces, which can be used to turn off (or turn on) the switch. This opens new opportunities for logic operations. He discusses potential uses such as human–electronic interfaces, security applications and robotics.

Wang has also been experimenting with what he calls piezophotoelectronics. In this work, his concept to use lasers in tandem with piezoelectric gate materials to build functional on-off systems. For example, a laser can be used to raise the band gap between the p- and n- regions and shut off current flow, while the piezo material can turn it back on, and vice versa. This would be useful, for example, to tune and optimize photocells and improve photodetector capabilities. A piezophotoelectric LED is also in the works.

Wang is Regent’s Professor and director of the Center for Nanostructure Characterization at Georgia Tech.

For information on other areas of Wang’s research see:

Zhong-Lin Wang takes nanoscale piezo energy scavenging to heart

Creating alternating current with piezoelectrics

Learning from lizards how to improve dry adhesives