Piezoelectricity, also called the piezoelectric effect, is the ability of certain materials to generate an AC (alternating current) voltage when subjected to mechanical stress or vibration, or to vibrate when subjected to an AC voltage, or both. The most common piezoelectric material is quartz. Certain ceramics, Rochelle salts, and various other solids also exhibit this effect.
A piezoelectric transducer comprises a “crystal” sandwiched between two metal plates. When a sound wave strikes one or both of the plates, the plates vibrate. The crystal picks up this vibration, which it translates into a weak AC voltage. Therefore, an AC voltage arises between the two metal plates, with a waveform similar to that of the sound waves. Conversely, if an AC signal is applied to the plates, it causes the crystal to vibrate in sync with the signal voltage. As a result, the metal plates vibrate also, producing an acoustic disturbance.
Piezoelectric transducers are common in ultrasonic applications, such as intrusion detectors and alarms. Piezoelectric devices are employed at AF (audio frequencies) as pickups, microphones, earphones, beepers, and buzzers. In wireless applications, piezoelectricity makes it possible to use crystals and ceramics as oscillators that generate predictable and stable signals at RF (radio frequencies).