Researchers at Columbia Engineering and the Georgia Institute of Technology have reportedly  made the first experimental observation of piezoelectricity and the piezotronic effect in an atomically thin material, molybdenum disulfide (MoS2).  The piezo effect is traditionally thought of as one property of hard crystalline quartz. Using this new material it would now be possible to manufacture electric generator and mechanosensation devices that are optically transparent, extremely light, flexible and elastic.

“This material—just a single layer of atoms—could be made as a wearable device, perhaps integrated into clothing, to convert energy from your body movement to electricity and power wearable sensors or medical devices, or perhaps supply enough energy to charge your cell phone in your pocket,” says James Hone, professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia and co-leader of the research.

“Proof of the piezoelectric effect and piezotronic effect adds new functionalities to these two-dimensional materials,” says Zhong Lin Wang, Regents’ Professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Materials Science and Engineering and a co-leader of the research. “The materials community is excited about molybdenum disulfide, and demonstrating the piezoelectric effect in it adds a new facet to the material.”

There are two keys to using molybdenum disulfide for generating current: using an odd number of layers and flexing it in the proper direction. The material is highly polar so an even number of layers cancels out the piezoelectric effect. The material’s crystalline structure also is piezoelectric in only certain crystalline orientations. To find out more read the full press release here.