Through a straightforward modification to a commercially available atomic force microscope, researchers at the California NanoSystems Institute's Nano and Pico Characterization Laboratory (NPC) have demonstrated a method for characterizing the induced pyroelectric effect and resultant polarization distribution with nanoscale precision that is broadly available for any research laboratory. Using a combination of electrostatic force microscopy (EFM) and thermal cycling, this approach combines precise control over the relevant parameters that define the pyroelectric effect with real-space imaging at nanoscale resolution.

Sensors and personal electronics

Validation of the technique on what would generally be considered a challenging sample (naturally occurring tourmaline gemstones) shows the capabilities of this straightforward approach for the design, fabrication and characterization of a broad class of pyroelectric devices, regardless of their size and shape. In addition, the reported results indicate a possibility to turn natural thermal cycles, including the ones that originate in ambient/turbulent air convection, into energy sources for small electronic devices, such as environmental sensors and personal electronics.

The researchers presented their results in the journal Nanotechnology.