Gator Engineers reinvent the accelerometer, environment and consumer to benefit

In News, Research & Innovation by Jen Ambrose

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The technology used to track movement in our cell phones, gaming devices, and airbags is about to scale down, resulting in smaller packaging, lower costs, and reduced environmental impact.

Accelerometers are used everyday to track movement in many responsive electronic devices – they are how your smart phone knows to readjust a picture when you turn your hand sideways, how the Wii video game knows how hard you swung your “tennis racket,” and how your air bags know whether or not you’ve been in a serious car accident.

Up until now, the accelerometers used in consumer electronics have been made using microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). New research by UF engineering faculty, published in Nature Communications this month, has found that not only can accelerometers be made using piezoelectric nanowire-based nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS), but that there are significant advantages to doing so.

Henry A. Sodano, an associate professor in both the departments of mechanical and aerospace engineering and materials science and engineering, authored the article with his Ph.D. student, Aneesh Koka.

“The piezoelectric nanowires we used are processed using only salts,” said Sodano. “These salts are readily available and environmentally benign, whereas manufacturing MEMS requires hazardous chemicals and significantly more power usage. So it’s better for the environment. In addition, our method eliminates the need for costly semiconductor equipment, a savings that could potentially get passed on to the consumer.”

The end result is a film that is one-tenth the thickness of a human hair and can accurately measure motion. These nanowire arrays are also capable of generating an electrical signal from surrounding vibrational energy that can be stored for later use. In other words, they create a motion-sustained energy source for portable electronics, which means they draw less power from your battery.  

Within the broader scientific community, there are a number of researchers looking at nanowire sensors and devices. This study is the first to show ferroelectric nanowires acting as sensors and the performance of such a device across a spectrum of frequencies. For more information, see the article in Nature Communications entitled “High-sensitivity accelerometer composed of ultra-long, vertically aligned barium titanate nanowire arrays.” 

 

Media Contact:
Dr. Henry Sodano, hsodano@ufl.edu, (352) 273-2663

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