Piezoelectric sensors

Piezoelectricityi is the ability of certain crystals to produce a voltage when subjected to mechanical stress. The word is derived from the Greek piezein, which means to squeeze or press. The effect is reversible; piezoelectric crystals, subject to an externally applied voltage, can change shape by a small amount. The effect is of the order of nanometres, but nevertheless finds useful applications such as the production and detection of sound, generation of high voltages, electronic frequency generation, and ultrafine focusing of optical assemblies.

In a piezoelectric crystal, the positive and negative electrical charges are separated, but symmetrically distributed, so that the crystal overall is electrically neutral. When a stress is applied, this symmetry is disturbed, and the charge asymmetry generates a voltage. A 1 cm cube of quartz with 500 lb (2 kN) of correctly applied pressure upon it, can produce 12,500 V of electricity.

Sensors

  • To detect sound, e.g. piezoelectric microphones (sound waves bend the piezoelectric material, creating a changing voltage) and piezoelectric pickups for electrically amplified guitars.
  • Piezoelectric elements are also used in the generation of sonar waves. Piezoelectric microbalances are used as very sensitive chemical and biological sensors.
  • Piezoelectric elements are used in electronic drum pads to detect the impact of the drummer's sticks.