Being piezoelectric, it develops a voltage difference across two of its faces when compressed (useful for sensor applications), or physically changes shape when an external electric field is applied (useful for actuators and the like).
The material features an extremely large dielectric constant at the morphotropic phase boundary (MPB) near x = 0.52. These properties make PZT-based compounds one of the most prominent and useful electroceramics. Commercially, it is usually not used in its pure form, rather it is doped with either acceptor dopants, which create oxygen (anion) vacancies, or donor dopants, which create metal (cation) vacancies and facilitate domain wall motion in the material. In general, acceptor doping creates hard PZT while donor doping creates soft PZT. In general, soft PZT has a higher piezoelectric constant, but larger losses in the material due to internal friction. In hard PZT, domain wall motion is pinned by the impurities thereby lowering the losses in the material, but at the expense of a reduced piezoelectric constant.
PZT is used to make ultrasound transducers and other sensors and actuators, as well as high-value ceramic capacitors and FRAM chips. PZT is also used in the manufacture of ceramic resonators for reference timing in electronic circuitry.
One of the commonly studied chemical composition is. The increased piezoelectric response and poling efficiency near to x = 0.52 is due to the increased number of allowable domain states at the MPB. At this boundary, the 6 possible domain states from the tetragonal phase <100> and the 8 possible domain states from the rhombohedral phase <111> are equally favorable energetically, thereby allowing a maximum 14 possible domain states.
Like structurally similar lead scandium tantalate and barium strontium titanate, PZT can be used for manufacture of uncooled staring array infrared imaging sensors for thermographic cameras. Both thin film (usually obtained by chemical vapor deposition) and bulk structures are used. The formula of the material used usually approaches Pb1.1(Zr0.3Ti0.7)O3 (called PZT 30/70). Its properties may be modified by doping it with lanthanum, resulting in lanthanum-doped lead zirconate titanate (PLZT, also called lead lanthanum zirconate titanate), with formula Pb0.83La0.17(Zr0.3Ti0.7)0.9575O3 (PLZT 17/30/70).
In 1975 Sandia National Laboratories was working on anti-flash goggles to protect aircrew from burns and blindness in case of a nuclear explosion. The PLZT lenses could turn opaque in less than 150 millionths of a second.