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 year.
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 hardware.
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 mass production.
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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