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Three-dimensional piezoelectric polymer microsystems for vibrational energy harvesting, robotic interfaces and biomedical implants


Piezoelectric microsystems are of use in areas such as mechanical sensing, energy conversion and robotics. The systems typically have a planar structure, but transforming them into complex three-dimensional (3D) frameworks could enhance and extend their various modes of operation. Here, we report a controlled, nonlinear buckling process to convert lithographically defined two-dimensional patterns of electrodes and thin films of piezoelectric polymers into sophisticated 3D piezoelectric microsystems. To illustrate the engineering versatility of the approach, we create more than twenty different 3D geometries. With these structures, we then demonstrate applications in energy harvesting with tailored mechanical properties and root-mean-square voltages ranging from 2 mV to 790 mV, in multifunctional sensors for robotic prosthetic interfaces with improved responsivity (for example, anisotropic responses and sensitivity of 60 mV N−1 for normal force), and in bio-integrated devices with in vivo operational capabilities. The 3D geometries, especially those with ultralow stiffnesses or asymmetric layouts, yield unique mechanical attributes and levels of functionality that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with conventional two-dimensional designs.

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The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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J.A.R. acknowledges support from the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences (DE-FG02-07ER46471). Y.Z. acknowledges support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (11722217) and the Tsinghua National Laboratory for Information Science and Technology. Y.H. acknowledges support from the NSF (CMMI1400169, CMMI1534120 and CMMI1635443). Y.X. acknowledges support from the Ryan Fellowship and the Northwestern University International Institute for Nanotechnology.

Author information

M.H., H.W., Z.Y., Y.Z., Y.H. and J.A.R. conceived the idea and designed the research. M.H., Y.Y., C.L., Z.Y. and J.L. performed micro-fabrication of all structures and devices. M.H., C.L., W.B. and H.Z. performed measurements and analysed the experimental data. M.H., W.B. and I.K. evaluated the devices in animal models. X.W. and B.A. performed cell seeding and cell viability assay under the supervision of G.A.A. H.W., Y.Z. and Y.H. led the mechanical modelling and theoretical studies, with assistance from H. Li. Y.X. and H. Luan. M.H., H.W., Y.Z., Y.H. and J.A.R. wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Yihui Zhang or Yonggang Huang or John A. Rogers.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Notes 1–4 and Supplementary Figures 1–46

  2. Reporting Summary

  3. Supplementary Video 1

    Output signals from the 2D piezoelectric device with a mouse moving freely inside the enclosure.

  4. Supplementary Video 2

    Output signals from the 3D piezoelectric device with a mouse moving freely inside the enclosure.

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Further reading

Fig. 1: 3D mesoscale piezoelectric frameworks and ultralow-stiffness mesostructures.
Fig. 2: 3D vibratory piezoelectric energy harvesters.
Fig. 3: Impact-based 3D piezoelectric energy harvester and sensors.
Fig. 4: 3D piezoelectric devices as biomedical implants.