Researchers have uncovered a new way of using lasers to directly write patterns onto special crystals, in a nanotechnology breakthrough.
Using the new technique, RMIT University researchers have been able to more easily and efficiently produce surface acoustic waves on a piezoelectric chip - a type of crystal that generates these waves when certain electrical voltages are applied to it.
Surface acoustic waves are sound waves used in mobile and optical telecommunications and have ground-breaking potential applications in the fields of ultrasound technology, energy harvesting and sensors for harsh environments.
The discovery has recently been featured on the cover of the high-impact journal, Advanced Materials Interfaces.
But when incredibly high voltages are applied to incite surface acoustic waves, these microelectrodes can easily break.
"In our approach, we are able to directly write with a laser onto the piezoelectric chip like writing with a pen on a piece of paper," Dr Yudistira said.
"This means we can simply use a laser to create surface acoustic waves without requiring any complex and expensive fabrication steps.
"Unlike the microelectrodes, the structure is more robust."
The technique focuses on piezoelectric materials, which expand and contract under electrical voltage.
Usually, piezoelectric chips expand when a positive voltage is applied, and contract under negative voltage.
The researchers found that applying a laser to sections of a piezoelectric chip reverses the behaviour - if, for example, the chip is positively charged and would usually expand, the areas exposed to the laser contract.
Dr Yudistira said the research presented a simpler way of harnessing piezoelectricity.
"Our publication shows that this technique can be used with industry standard acoustic wave materials," he said.
"The surface acoustic waves generated through our technique are strong enough to manipulate a water drop - a process depicted on the cover of the journal."
Dr Yudistira said the breakthrough would service the increased emphasis on nanotechnology prevalent in research in the field.
"In the future we will be looking more and more into nanotechnology, therefore a technique which involves a laser beam writing directly onto the chip has more merit than the other technique and can generate surface acoustic waves at a much higher frequency."
The research is a collaboration between teams led by Professor Arnan Mitchell, Node Director, ARC Centre for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems and Professor James Friend, Director of the new MicroNano Research Facility.
Dr Yudistira said the breakthrough was a product of the vibrant and distinctive research culture at RMIT, which offered opportunities for different areas to combine their expertise.
"While working with PhD student, Andreas Boes, I saw how he was investigating a laser-based fabrication technique to develop laser writing technology to be applied to research into optics," he said.
"I came in and asked if the same technique could be used in acoustic wave technologies - and the rest, as they say, is history."
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