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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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

Author notes

  1. These authors contributed equally: Mengdi Han, Heling Wang.


  1. Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

    • Mengdi Han
    • , Cunman Liang
    • , Wubin Bai
    • , Hangbo Zhao
    • , Jaeman Lim
    • , Yonggang Huang
    •  & John A. Rogers
  2. Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

    • Heling Wang
    • , Wubin Bai
    • , Yeguang Xue
    • , Haiwen Luan
    • , Yonggang Huang
    •  & John A. Rogers
  3. Department of Mechanical Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

    • Heling Wang
    • , Yiyuan Yang
    • , Yeguang Xue
    • , Haiwen Luan
    • , Yonggang Huang
    •  & John A. Rogers
  4. Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

    • Heling Wang
    • , Haibo Li
    • , Yeguang Xue
    • , Haiwen Luan
    •  & Yonggang Huang
  5. Key Laboratory of Mechanism Theory and Equipment Design of Ministry of Education, School of Mechanical Engineering, Tianjin University, Tianjin, China

    • Cunman Liang
  6. Departments of Biomedical, Biological & Chemical Engineering, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USA

    • Zheng Yan
  7. School of Naval Architecture, Ocean and Civil Engineering (State Key Laboratory of Ocean Engineering), Shanghai Jiaotong University, Shanghai, China

    • Haibo Li
  8. Department of Biomedical Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

    • Xinlong Wang
    • , Banu Akar
    • , Guillermo A. Ameer
    •  & John A. Rogers
  9. The Center for Developmental Therapeutics, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

    • Irawati Kandela
  10. Department of Surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, USA

    • Guillermo A. Ameer
  11. Center for Advanced Regenerative Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

    • Guillermo A. Ameer
    •  & John A. Rogers
  12. Center for Flexible Electronics Technology and Center for Mechanics and Materials; AML, Department of Engineering Mechanics, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

    • Yihui Zhang
  13. Departments of Neurological Surgery, Chemistry, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; and Simpson Querrey Institute for BioNanotechnology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

    • John A. Rogers


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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.

Corresponding authors

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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