World’s Thinnest Electric Generator

Researchers from Columbia Engineering and the Georgia Institute of Technology report today that they have made the first experimental observation of piezoelectricity and the piezotronic effect in an atomically thin material, molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), resulting in a unique electric generator and mechanosensation devices that are optically transparent, extremely light, and very bendable and stretcha

Piezoelectricity is a well-known effect in which stretching or compressing a material causes it to generate an electrical voltage (or the reverse, in which an applied voltage causes it to expand or contract). But for materials of only a few atomic thicknesses, no experimental observation of piezoelectricity has been made, until now. The observation reported today provides a new property for two-dimensional materials such as molybdenum disulfide, opening the potential for new types of mechanically controlled electronic devices.

Ultimately, Zhong Lin Wang notes, the research could lead to complete atomic-thick nanosystems that are self-powered by harvesting mechanical energy from the environment. This study also reveals the piezotronic effect in two-dimensional materials for the first time, which greatly expands the application of layered materials for human-machine interfacing, robotics, MEMS, and active flexible electronics.

An atomically thin material, molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), shown, could be the basis for unique electric generator and mechanosensation devices that are optically transparent, extremely light, and very bendable and stretchable.—Image courtesy of Rob Felt/Georgia Tech

Nature – Piezoelectricity of single-atomic-layer MoS2 for energy conversion and piezotronics


The piezoelectric characteristics of nanowires, thin films and bulk crystals have been closely studied for potential applications in sensors, transducers, energy conversion and electronics. With their high crystallinity and ability to withstand enormous strain two-dimensional materials are of great interest as high-performance piezoelectric materials. Monolayer MoS2 is predicted to be strongly piezoelectric, an effect that disappears in the bulk owing to the opposite orientations of adjacent atomic layers. Here we report the first experimental study of the piezoelectric properties of two-dimensional MoS2 and show that cyclic stretching and releasing of thin MoS2 flakes with an odd number of atomic layers produces oscillating piezoelectric voltage and current outputs, whereas no output is observed for flakes with an even number of layers. A single monolayer flake strained by 0.53% generates a peak output of 15 mV and 20 pA, corresponding to a power density of 2 mW m−2 and a 5.08% mechanical-to-electrical energy conversion efficiency. In agreement with theoretical predictions, the output increases with decreasing thickness and reverses sign when the strain direction is rotated by 90°. Transport measurements show a strong piezotronic effect in single-layer MoS2, but not in bilayer and bulk MoS2. The coupling between piezoelectricity and semiconducting properties in two-dimensional nanomaterials may enable the development of applications in powering nanodevices, adaptive bioprobes and tunable/stretchable electronics/optoelectronics.

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