Recently, zinc oxide (ZnO) nanowires have drawn major interest because of their semiconducting nature and unique optical and piezoelectric properties. Various applications for ZnO nanowires have been conceived, including the next generation of field effect transistors, light emitting diodes, sensors and resonators. ZnO nanowires are also envisioned as nanogenerators by exploiting the coupling of semiconducting and piezoelectric properties.
Researchers at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University recently performed experiments and computations to resolve major existing discrepancies about the scaling of ZnO nanowires elastic properties. These properties are essential to the design of reliable novel ZnO devices, and the insight emerging from such studies advances scientific understanding about atomic structures, which are also responsible for piezo-electric and piezo-resistive properties.
ZnO nanowires usually have a hexagonal cross-section, with diameters ranging from 5 to 500 nanometers. Interesting changes in their properties arise as the diameter of the wires decreases due to increasing surface-to-volume ratio. Unfortunately, experimental results reported in the literature on wire elasticity for a given diameter exhibit a large variability.
"This highlights one of the major challenges in the field of nanotechnology the accurate measurement of nanoscale mechanical properties," says Horacio Espinosa, professor of mechanical engineering at McCormick. "Indirect measurement techniques and ill-defined boundary conditions affected mechanical properties measurements and resulted in problematic inconsistencies."
Espinosa and his group at Northwestern resolved this discrepancy using a nanoscale material testing system based on microelectromechanical system (MEMS) technology. The system was used to perform in-situ electron microscopy tensile testing of nanowire specimens. Load and displaceme
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