The Future of Smart Materials

A close-up picture of a quartz crystal

Imagine your phone just ran out of juice. What if you could take a quick walk to charge it? What if your pajamas could tell you how well you slept? These types of advances aren’t science fiction. With the help of supercomputing resources, using piezoelectric materials in these new and exciting ways could be a reality sooner than you think.

Piezoelectric materials are one form of what is colloquially known as smart materials. Smart materials change based on external stimuli. For example, the presence of water or heat can change the materials in an expected or controlled way every time they encounter the same stimuli. We’ve been using “smart materials” for a long time. Think of the mercury in old thermometers.

Piezoelectric materials give off voltage when they’re stressed, like being compressed by your foot when you step. Or conversely, if they have voltage applied to them, stress will occur within the sample. Quartz is a common piezoelectric material. You may even have a quartz watch that uses a quartz-oscillator circuit to tell time. While it sounds simple enough, determining how to harness piezoelectric materials to advance technology is a time-consuming process.

When they were discovered, [carbon nanotubes] promised a lot of new useful applications. Scientists were so excited about the possibilities that were going to be presented to materials engineers and industry. However, carbon nanotubes appeared to be more complicated than we thought in the beginning.

Abdennaceur Karoui, physics professor, North Carolina Central University

A team of professors and students at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) have devised a way to speed up the process. Utilizing Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center’s (PSC) Bridges-2, the team at NCCU is able to run hundreds of simulations in a relatively short time to build a database of information on how piezoelectric materials behave under different conditions. The eventual goal is to feed these datasets into a machine-learning AI that will predict the behavior of new materials. Their research could help speed up the process of figuring out all the various ways technology could be improved using piezoelectric materials. Perhaps sooner than you think, we’ll all charge our devices by taking a stroll in the park.

You can read more about this story here (Published September 23, 2022): Students use Bridges-2 to Simulate Physical Stress in Carbon Nanotubes

If you have a project that could benefit from access to supercomputing resources like the ones used in this story, you can visit the allocations page to get started with ACCESS.

Project Details

Institution: PSC (Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center)
University: North Carolina Central University
Funding Agency: The work on the Bridges-2 supercomputer was funded by the National Science Foundation’s Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment allocated through XSEDE.

The science story featured here, allocated through August 31, 2022, was enabled through Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) and supported by National Science Foundation grant number #1548562. Projects allocated September 1, 2022 and beyond are enabled by the ACCESS program, which is supported by National Science Foundation grants #2138259, #2138286, #2138307, #2137603, and #2138296.

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