National Nuclear Security Administration

Sandia researcher turns "problem" of nonlinear capacitors into a solution

January 22, 2016

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Sandia National Laboratories' Researcher Juan Elizondo-Decanini holds two compact, high-voltage nonlinear transmission lines. He leads a project on nonlinear behavior in materials — behavior that’s usually shunned because it’s so unpredictable. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

Sandia National Laboratories' Juan Elizondo-Decanini turned a long-standing problem into an idea he believes could lead to better and less expensive machines, from cell phones to pressure sensors.

“This is one of those cases where it appears it’s going to result in substantial savings and it’s going to generate a whole suite of new gadgets,” he says.

Juan leads a project on nonlinear behavior in materials — behavior that’s usually shunned as too unpredictable. Instead of avoiding nonlinearity, he’s embracing it using harmonic waves called solitons and studying, for example, how nonlinearity might be used in capacitors to further improve cell phone reception or lock out computer hackers.

Capacitors are fundamental elements in electronic circuits that store energy by accumulating electrical charge after voltage is applied to them. The stored charge is determined by the capacitance value: the more capacitance, the more charge stored and the more energy at a given “charge” voltage. High-quality capacitors are considered linear because capacitance value doesn’t change as voltage is applied to store a charge. In a nonlinear capacitor, capacitance value changes as voltage is applied, so the energy or stored charge is different from what was expected.

Learn more about the nonlinear capacitor.