Certain crystals develop a voltage difference between their faces when a mechanical stress is applied to them. Also, in an applied electric field, there is mechanical strain or a slight change in shape for such crystals. This phenomenon is called piezoelectricity and such crystals are called piezoelectric. An example of piezoelectric crystals is quartz.

When a piezoelectric crystal is mechanically stressed, it gets polarized, that is, charges appear on its surface. This polarization leads to a voltage difference between the faces of the crystal. For a crystal to be piezoelectric, it is required that it must NOT have a center of symmetry. Therefore, not all crystals are piezoelectric. If the crystal has a center of symmetry, under an applied mechanical stress, the net polarization remains zero. As a result, there is no voltage difference and such a crystal is non-piezoelectric.

There is a total of thirty-two crystal classes, twenty-one of these do not have a center of symmetry. However, only twenty are piezoelectric.

A piezoelectric crystal is, in effect, an electromechanical transducer since it converts an electric signal to a mechanical signal. In fact, very high voltages correspond to only tiny changes in the size of the crystal.

Piezoelectric crystals are put to various applications:
  • To generate ultrasonic waves in crystals, for non-destructive testing.
  • In microphones, to detect sound. (through the mechanical stress provided by sound waves, a voltage is produced)
  • As high voltage sources.
  • As actuators, in scanning tunneling microscopes to position the sensing probe.


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