Nanoscale flexoelectricity

Thanh D. Nguyen, Sheng Mao, Yao Wen Yeh, Prashant K. Purohit, Michael C. McAlpine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

321 Scopus citations


Electromechanical effects are ubiquitous in biological and materials systems. Understanding the fundamentals of these coupling phenomena is critical to devising next-generation electromechanical transducers. Piezoelectricity has been studied in detail, in both the bulk and at mesoscopic scales. Recently, an increasing amount of attention has been paid to flexoelectricity: electrical polarization induced by a strain gradient. While piezoelectricity requires crystalline structures with no inversion symmetry, flexoelectricity does not carry this requirement, since the effect is caused by inhomogeneous strains. Flexoelectricity explains many interesting electromechanical behaviors in hard crystalline materials and underpins core mechanoelectric transduction phenomena in soft biomaterials. Most excitingly, flexoelectricity is a size-dependent effect which becomes more significant in nanoscale systems. With increasing interest in nanoscale and nano-bio hybrid materials, flexoelectricity will continue to gain prominence. This Review summarizes work in this area. First, methods to amplify or manipulate the flexoelectric effect to enhance material properties will be investigated, particularly at nanometer scales. Next, the nature and history of these effects in soft biomaterials will be explored. Finally, some theoretical interpretations for the effect will be presented. Overall, flexoelectricity represents an exciting phenomenon which is expected to become more considerable as materials continue to shrink. Flexoelectricity describes the phenomenon in which electrical polarization is induced by a strain gradient. Due to size-dependent scaling of the strain gradient, the flexoelectric effect is particularly important in nanoscale systems. It has also been observed in biological systems, making flexoelectricity an exciting field of study as nano-bio hybrid systems gain prominence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)946-974
Number of pages29
JournalAdvanced Materials
Issue number7
StatePublished - Feb 20 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • biomechanics
  • flexoelectricity
  • nano-bio hybrid materials
  • nanoscale electromechanics
  • piezoelectric nanomaterials


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