Transparent solar collector to turn skyscrapers into power plants

We may soon be able to create electricity using the screens of our phones, windows in buildings and any other clear surface.

Researchers have created a ‘transparent’ surface that can capture light and convert it into electricity using solar technology.

The team, from Michigan State University, developed organic molecules that are able to take in waves of sunlight which are not visible to the human eye.

It is the first time that a transparent solar concentrator has been created.

Richard Lunt who worked on the research, said that the unique nature of the transparency means we may be able to incorporate it into our everyday lives and create energy from clear surfaces.

“It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” Lunt said. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

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As the materials used do not absorb or emit any light that can be seen by the human eye, this means they appear transparent when we look at them.

Instead they rely on infrared light, which is guided to the edge of the material where it is converted to electricity by solar cells.

“No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” explained Lunt. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.

“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared.”

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The previously developed coloured concentrators developed by MIT

However the future for the technology isn’t yet crystal clear as work needs to be done on improving the energy-producing efficiency.

Currently its solar conversion rate lies close to one percent, but the researchers believe they will be able to get it close to five percent when everything has been fully optimised.

At present coloured variations of the concentrator have efficiency levels of around seven percent.


Featured image and image one courtesy of the Michigan State Univeristy. Image two courtesy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Swarm of microsatellites could be sent to Jupiter on inspection mission

Jupiter’s dense atmosphere poses a difficult challenge to scientists as it can cause probes to burn up as they descend through the gas.

To get around this, it’s being proposed by researchers that a swarm of tiny probes be sent to the planet to collect data that they can send back before they are burnt up.

It’s said that a small swarm, which could be comprised of nanosats, could be carried to the planet before they are deployed to collect as much data as possible.

Any small probes sent would last 15 minutes before they were destroyed, scientists writing in the International Journal Space Science and Engineering said.

Despite this short amount of time it could allow 20 megabits of information to be transferred, and thus allow scientists to get a better understanding of the planet’s atmosphere.

“Our concept shows that for a small enough probe, you can strip off the parachute and still get enough time in the atmosphere to take meaningful data while keeping the relay close and the data rate high,” John Moores from York University, Toronto, said.

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Jupiter, the biggest of the gas planets, has a dense atmosphere that is mostly composed of hydrogen. Estimates have said that the atmosphere is around 90% hydrogen and 10% helium. It also has the deepest of all the planetary atmospheres in the solar system.

The researchers said that smaller probes, which have been made possible to create due to the ever-decreasing size of electronics, cameras and other instruments, have the best chance of penetrating the atmosphere.

Nanosatellies or similar devices, they said, would survive the fall through Jupiter’s atmosphere without parachutes for much longer than their bigger counterparts.

Spacecraft that weigh more than 300kg fall through the atmosphere too slowly. This leads to the knock-on effect that they cannot transmit as much data because the relay needs to be further away.

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The researchers said that their idea could be facilitated by the European Space Agency’s JUICE mission, which is set to explore Jupiter and its moons following its launch in 2022.

It was proposed that any tandem mission could send micro satellites to the planet.

This would be while the JUICE mission, which would reach the planet in 2030, would tour the planet and its moons to assess the atmosphere.


Featured image courtesy of ESA. Images one and two courtesy of NASA


Bringing quantum into computing: Light-entangling technology comes to silicon chips

Scientists have developed an on-chip component that entangles photons, bringing quantum technology to traditional silicon chips for the first time.

The component, known as a silicon-ring resonator, makes use of the unusual quantum phenomenon of entanglement, which allows two particles to form an instantaneous connection no matter how far away they are from each other.

Entanglement of light particles could be revolutionary for computing, transforming everything from communications to cybersecurity.

However, the new component is most significant for its scale.

Other photon-entangling technologies – known as micro-ring resonators – have previously been developed, but with a diameter of a few millimeters were far too large to fit onto a silicon chip.

The newly developed silicon-ring resonator is based on the same design but considerably smaller, allowing it to fit on a silicon chip.

“The diameter of the ring resonator is a mere 20 microns, which is about one-tenth of the width of a human hair. Previous sources were hundreds of times larger than the one we developed,” explained Daniele Bajoni study co-author and researcher at the Università degli Studi di Pavia, Italy.

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This difference in size is extremely important, as it makes it possible to bring quantum technology to traditional computers.

“In the last few years, silicon integrated devices have been developed to filter and route light, mainly for telecommunication applications,” said Bajoni.

“Our micro-ring resonators can be readily used alongside these devices, moving us toward the ability to fully harness entanglement on a chip.”

According to The Optical Society, which published the findings today in the journal Optica, the research could enable quantum technologies that have already been developed to be adopted on a wider scale.

“What has been missing was a cheap, small, and reliable source of entangled photons capable of propagation in fiber networks, a problem that is apparently solved by their innovation,” the society explained.

One example of this is the transmission of unbreakable quantum cryptography protocols, which are designed to provide truly secure data transmission but cannot work on existing infrastructure.

Looking further ahead, photon entanglement could even pave the way for instant data transmission, transforming whole areas of technology.

Silicon-ring resonators are based on the established micro-ring resonators, which take the form of a series of tiny loops etched onto wafers of silicon.

Each loop functions as a collector of photons, which it then re-emits.

The researchers have updated the design so that the silicon-ring resonators provide a new source of entangled photons while being small and efficient enough to be incorporated into a chip.

As part of this design, a laser beam is directed onto the silicon loops in the same direction as the photons being captured, allowing it to function as a power source for the loop-like resonator.

When the researchers analysed the photons being fired out, they found that a large number of them had become entangled.

“Our device is capable of emitting light with striking quantum mechanical properties never observed in an integrated source,” said Bajoni.

“The rate at which the entangled photons are generated is unprecedented for a silicon-integrated source, and comparable with that available from bulk crystals that must be pumped by very strong lasers.”


 Image courtesy of the Università degli Studi di Pavia.