Appearance of an electric field in certain nonconducting crystals as a result of the application of mechanical pressure. Pressure polarizes some crystals, such as quartz, by slightly separating the centers of positive and negative charge. The resultant electric field is detectable as a voltage. The converse effect also occurs: an applied electric field produces mechanical deformation in the crystal. Using this effect, a high-frequency alternating electric current (see alternating current) can be converted to an ultrasonic wave of the same frequency, while a mechanical vibration, such as sound, can be converted into a corresponding electrical signal. Piezoelectricity is utilized in microphones, phonograph pickups, and telephone communications systems.
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