Atomistic-Benchmarking towards a protocol development for rapid quantitative metrology of piezoelectric biomolecular materials

Joseph O'Donnell, Sarah Guerin, Pandeeswar Makam, Pierre Andre Cazade, Ehtsham Ul Haq, Kai Tao, Ehud Gazit, Christophe Silien, Tewfik Soulimane, Damien Thompson, Syed A.M. Tofail*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biomolecular crystals are an emerging class of piezoelectric materials that are both biocompatible and biodegradable, which enables their use in biomedical applications and smart devices while ensuring eco-friendly production and disposal. However, accurate quantification of the piezoelectric response of soft sub-micron crystals remains a significant challenge, as conventional piezoelectric measurement techniques are suited to ceramics, thin films, and polymers. Here, we demonstrate the use of a novel piezoresponse force microscopy (PFM) methodology for robust, reliable quantification of the electromechanical response of biomolecular crystals. As a strong test of high accuracy and precision, we show that PFM, integrated with quantum mechanical (QM) density functional theory (DFT) calculations, can distinguish the piezoelectric responses of near-isopiezoelectric amino acid crystals. We show that a statistical approach, combined with experimental best practices, provides effective piezoelectric coefficients of biomolecular single crystals accurately and unambiguously. This work opens the door to high-throughput screening and characterisation of natural and engineered soft piezoelectric crystals for eco-friendly energy harvesters and biodegradable medical implants, reducing dependence on lead-based and rare-earth-containing piezoelectric materials.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100818
JournalApplied Materials Today
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Amino acid and peptide technology
  • Bio-organic piezoelectricity
  • Chiral crystals
  • Energy harvesting
  • Predictive materials modelling
  • Racemic crystals


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