For Release: Oct. 1, 1996
Headquarters, Washington, DC
Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA
RELEASE NO. 96-154
NASA ROLLS OUT AWARD-WINNING "THUNDER"
A NASA technology that could make everything from speakers to
heart pumps smaller and more efficient has been recognized as one
of the 100 most significant technological advancements of the past
Dubbed THUNDER, for Thin-Layer Composite-Unimorph Piezoelectric
Driver and Sensor, its potential applications could be applied in
electronics, optics, jitter (irregular motion) suppression, noise
cancellation, pumps, valves and a variety of other fields. Its
low-voltage characteristic could allow it to be used for the first
time in internal biomedical applications like heart pumps.
Researchers at NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, have
taken advantage of a well-known phenomenon exhibited by
piezoelectric materials. These materials generate mechanical
movement when subjected to an electric current, as in a speaker or
actuator, and generate electrical charge in response to mechanical
stress, as in certain types of sensors.
The Langley researchers, a multi-disciplinary materials
integration team, have succeeded in developing and demonstrating a
piezoelectric material that is superior to commercially available
piezoelectric materials in several significant ways. It is tougher,
more durable, allows lower voltage operation, has greater
mechanical load capacity, can be easily produced at a relatively
low cost and lends itself well to mass production.
The first generation of THUNDER devices is being fabricated in
the lab by building up layers of commercially available ceramic
wafers. The layers are bonded using a Langley-developed polymer
adhesive. The process results in a prestressed
device with significantly improved performance. In addition, the
process is controllable and results in highly uniform pieces of
In the ideal fabrication process - which researchers believe is
technically feasible - piezoelectric ceramic materials would be
ground to a powder, processed and blended with an adhesive before
being pressed, molded or extruded into wafer form. The result would
be increased ability to tailor properties, more flexibility in
choosing methods of manufacturing and increased amenability toward
THUNDER wafers could be any practical size from areas of a few
square millimeters to several square meters and thicknesses of
fractional millimeters to several millimeters.
Memoranda of agreement have been signed with six companies to
develop THUNDER technologies and related commercial products.
Approximately 15-20 more companies are negotiating agreements.
NASA Langley researchers honored by R&D magazine for their
work on THUNDER are Richard Hellbaum, Robert Bryant, Robert Fox,
Antony Jalink, Wayne Rohrbach and Joycelyn Simpson.
"THUNDER" technology will be honored by Research and Development
magazine at the annual "R & D 100 Awards" banquet Oct. 14 in
Philadelphia, PA. The R & D 100 Award, formerly IR-100, is
presented annually by the magazine to the innovators of the 100
most technologically significant new products of the year.
Selections are made by a panel of scientists and engineers after
studying new technologies from around the globe. Langley has
competed in the program 27 years and has earned 31 awards.
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