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Adam FabioAdam Fabio 08/22/2016 at 04:130 Comments

The piezoelectric effect is simple in its rules: Apply mechanical stress to a material and you generate an electric charge. The inverse is also true: Apply a voltage to a material, and it changes shape. This doesn’t work for everything, though. Only certain materials like crystals, some ceramics, and bone have piezoelectric properties. The piezoelectric effect is used quite a bit in electronics, so it’s no surprise that plenty of hacker projects explore this physical phenomena. This week’s Hacklet is all about some of the best projects utilizing the piezoelectric effect on!

strumWe start with [miro2424] and StrumPad. Strumpad lets you play a MIDI instrument by strumming, just like a guitar. A music keyboard acts as the guitar fretboard here – keys can be pressed to choose notes, but no sound is generated. When the strumpad is strummed, six copper strips act as capacitive sensors. Touching the strips determines which notes will be played. A piezo disc hiding below the circuit board detects how hard the notes have been strummed or tapped. The ATmega328 running the strumpad then passes the velocity and note-on MIDI messages on to a synth.

stmNext up is [Dan Berard] with Scanning Tunneling Microscope. Inspired by a project from [John Alexander], [Dan] created his own Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM). The key to an instrument like this is precise movement. [Dan] achieves that by using a normal piezo disk. These disks are used as speakers and buzzers in everything from smoke detectors to greeting cards, so they’re common and cheap. [Dan] cut his piezo disk electrode into quadrants. Carefully controlling the voltage applied to the quadrants allows [Dan] to move his STM tip in X, Y, and Z. Incredibly, this microscope is able to create images at the atomic scale.

touchboard[Thatcher Chamberlin] is next with Low-Cost Touchscreen Anywhere. [Thatcher] used a trio of Piezo disks to make any flat surface touch sensitive. The three sensors are placed at 3 corners of a rectangle. Touches with the rectangle will create vibrations in the surface that are transmitted to the piezo sensors. By measuring the vibration time of arrival, it should be possible to determine where the surface was touched. This kind of measurement requires a decent processor, so [Thatcher] is using the ARM Cortex-M0 in NXP’s LPC1114FN28. Initial tests were promising, but we haven’t heard much from [Thatcher] on this project. If you see him online, tell him to hurry up! We’re hoping to turn our parking lot into a giant electronic chess board!

contFinally, we have [Jose Ignacio Romero] with Low Power Continuity Tester. [Jose] used a Piezo element in a slightly more mundane way – as a buzzer. Who needs a whole multimeter when you’re just trying to check continuity on a few circuits? This continuity tester uses a PIC12LF1571 processor to find open and short circuits. The 5 10 bit ADC in the PIC is plenty of resolution for this sort of tester. In fact, [Jose] even included a diode test, which emits a short beep if the leads are placed across a working diode. The PIC processor uses so little power that this tester should run for around 800 hours on a CR2032 watch battery.

If you want to see more piezo projects check out our brand new piezo projects list! If I missed your project, don’t get buzzed! Drop me a message on, and I’ll add it to the list. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!