Piezoelectricity allows precise and robust conversion between electricity and mechanical force, and arises from the broken inversion symmetry in the atomic structure. Reducing the dimensionality of bulk materials has been suggested to enhance piezoelectricity. However, when the thickness of a material approaches a single molecular layer, the large surface energy can cause piezoelectric structures to be thermodynamically unstable. Transition-metal dichalcogenides can retain their atomic structures down to the single-layer limit without lattice reconstruction, even under ambient conditions. Recent calculations have predicted the existence of piezoelectricity in these two-dimensional crystals due to their broken inversion symmetry. Here, we report experimental evidence of piezoelectricity in a free-standing single layer of molybdenum disulphide (MoS2) and a measured piezoelectric coefficient of e 11 =2.9×10 -10 Cm-1. The measurement of the intrinsic piezoelectricity in such free-standing crystals is free from substrate effects such as doping and parasitic charges. We observed a finite and zero piezoelectric response in MoS2 in odd and even number of layers, respectively, in sharp contrast to bulk piezoelectric materials. This oscillation is due to the breaking and recovery of the inversion symmetry of the two-dimensional crystal. Through the angular dependence of electromechanical coupling, we determined the two-dimensional crystal orientation. The piezoelectricity discovered in this single molecular membrane promises new applications in low-power logic switches for computing and ultrasensitive biological sensors scaled down to a single atomic unit cell.
Zhu, H., Wang, Y., Xiao, J., Liu, M., Xiong, S., Wong, Z. J., … Zhang, X. (2015). Observation of piezoelectricity in free-standing monolayer MoS2. Nature Nanotechnology, 10(2), 151–155. https://doi.org/10.1038/nnano.2014.309