Don Nolan-Proxmire Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1983) Keith Henry Langley Research Center, Hampton

, VA (Phone: 757/864-6120) RELEASE: 96-197

October 1, 1996

NASA ROLLS OUT AWARD-WINNING "THUNDER" A NASA technology that could make everything from audio speakers to heart pumps smaller and more efficient has been recognized as one of the 100 most significant technological advancements of the past year. Dubbed THUNDER, for Thin-Layer Composite-Unimorph Piezoelectric Driver and Sensor, its potential applications could be applied in electronics, optics, jitter (irregular motion) suppression, noise cancellation, pumps, valves and a variety of other fields. Researchers at NASAÕs Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, have taken advantage of a well-known phenomenon exhibited by piezoelectric materials. These materials generate mechanical movement when subjected to an electric current, as in a speaker or actuator, and generate electrical charge in response to mechanical stress, as in certain types of sensors. The Langley researchers, a multi-disciplinary materials integration team, have succeeded in developing and demonstrating a piezoelectric material that is superior to commercially available piezoelectric materials in several significant ways. It is tougher, more durable, allows lower voltage operation, has greater mechanical load capacity, can be easily produced at a relatively low cost and lends itself well to mass production. The first generation of THUNDER devices are being fabricated in the lab by building up layers of commercially available ceramic wafers. The layers are bonded using a Langley-developed polymer adhesive. The process results in a prestressed device with significantly improved performance.

In addition, the process is controllable and results in highly uniform pieces of hardware. In the ideal fabrication process -- which researchers believe is technically feasible -- piezoelectric ceramic materials would be ground to a powder, processed and blended with an adhesive before being pressed, molded or extruded into wafer form. The result would be increased ability to tailor properties, more flexibility in choosing methods of manufacturing and increased amenability toward mass production. THUNDER wafers could be any practical size from areas of a few square millimeters to several square meters and thicknesses of fractional millimeters to several millimeters. Memoranda of agreements have been signed with six companies to develop THUNDER technologies and related commercial products. Approximately 15-20 more companies are negotiating agreements. THUNDER technology will be honored by Research and Development magazine at the annual "R&D 100 Awards" banquet October 14 in Philadelphia, PA. The R&D 100 Award, formerly IR-100, is presented annually by the magazine to the innovators of the 100 most technologically significant new products of the year. Selections are made by a panel of scientists and engineers after studying new technologies from around the globe. Langley has competed in the program for 27 years and has earned 31 awards. - end NASA press releases and other information are available automatically by sending an Internet electronic mail message to In the body of the message (not the subject line) users should type the words "subscribe pressrelease" (no quotes). The system will reply with a confirmation via E-mail of each subscription. A second automatic message will include additional information on the service. NASA releases also are available via CompuServe using the command GO NASA.