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Power Education Science Technology

7th-Grader Designs Three Dimensional Solar Cell 719

Hugh Pickens writes "12-year-old William Yuan's invention of a highly-efficient, three-dimensional nanotube solar cell for visible and ultraviolet light has won him an award and a $25,000 scholarship from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development. 'Current solar cells are flat and can only absorb visible light'" Yuan said. 'I came up with an innovative solar cell that absorbs both visible and UV light. My project focused on finding the optimum solar cell to further increase the light absorption and efficiency and design a nanotube for light-electricity conversion efficiency.' Solar panels with his 3D cells would provide 500 times more light absorption than commercially-available solar cells and nine times more than cutting-edge 3D solar cells. 'My next step is to talk to manufacturers to see if they will build a working prototype,' Yuan said. "If the design works in a real test stage, I want to find a company to manufacture and market it.""
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7th-Grader Designs Three Dimensional Solar Cell

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  • How? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 18, 2008 @12:55PM (#25058269)
    How do people that young get access to tools to build these things?
    • Re:How? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Mordok-DestroyerOfWo ( 1000167 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @12:56PM (#25058293)
      Is anybody else feeling really inadequate right now?
      • Re:How? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Spazztastic ( 814296 ) <spazztastic@gmail . c om> on Thursday September 18, 2008 @12:58PM (#25058323)
        Mod parent up.

        Makes me feel stupid for spending my childhood throwing rocks at cats.
      • Re:How? (Score:5, Funny)

        by Gat0r30y ( 957941 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:02PM (#25058429) Homepage Journal
        I take solace in the fact that I could give him a wedgie. That would show him. Darn smart kids.

        In all seriousness, I hope this somehow makes it to production, what a bad ass.
      • Re:How? (Score:5, Funny)

        by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:04PM (#25058463) Homepage Journal

        Is anybody else feeling really inadequate right now?

        I don't believe the size of the boy's penis was mentioned at all...

      • Re:How? (Score:5, Funny)

        by zegota ( 1105649 ) <rpgfanatic.gmail@com> on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:17PM (#25058713)
        Sure, he designed a 3D Solar cell. But does he have a complete collection of Pokemon cards, both holo and nonholo? I think not.
      • Re:How? (Score:5, Funny)

        by Capt James McCarthy ( 860294 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:19PM (#25058749) Journal

        Is anybody else feeling really inadequate right now?

        Not at all. I'll go home, have a beer while watching pr0n and wait for my new 3D nano solar cell to arrive.

        His fear will be that he's peaked at 12. Aim low, and you'll always be moving up.

        And yes, I do realize this could be construed as passive aggressive.

        • Re:How? (Score:5, Funny)

          by zuzulo ( 136299 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @02:09PM (#25059693) Homepage

          Sounds passive depressive to me ... ;-)

        • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday September 18, 2008 @02:57PM (#25060503)
          When I was in college, the kids who were the over-achievers in high school were always the first to crash and burn when they hit college. Without their parents to drive them, they went nuts (sometimes literally). Didn't happen to all of them, but it was a lot more common with them than with the rest of us. Probably about half of the Governor's Scholars and Presidential Scholars I knew failed out their freshmen year.

          The asian kids were the worst too. My asian high school co-valedictorian had to (I kid you not) be institutionalized after his first semester. His first week of college, his roommate physically kicked him out of his room because his intensity was too much to handle (he was the kind of guy who would snap your head off if you even spoke to him while he was studying). Then, shortly thereafter, he swung wildly in the other direction and became a full-blown alcoholic (not going to class at all).

          • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:03PM (#25065393) Journal

            When I was in college, the kids who were the over-achievers in high school were always the first to crash and burn when they hit college. Without their parents to drive them, they went nuts (sometimes literally). Didn't happen to all of them, but it was a lot more common with them than with the rest of us. Probably about half of the Governor's Scholars and Presidential Scholars I knew failed out their freshmen year.

            Check back 5 years later when they've matured just a little. Some of those kids will have recovered and gone back to college. They may not have persued the same degree but I bet you'll find a lot of them have adjusted after the massive culture shock that no longer being spoon fed constitutes. Others of course will not have had the tenacity for a comeback, but I think the numbers that did will surprise you.

            That's just one reason it's important not to write someone off if they don't succeed immediately.

        • Re:How? (Score:4, Funny)

          by nilbog ( 732352 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @03:17PM (#25060811) Homepage Journal

          I haven't peaked. I haven't even begun to peak. And when I do peak, you're going to know it because I'm going to peak all over everybody.

      • Re:How? (Score:5, Informative)

        by blitzkrieg3 ( 995849 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:29PM (#25058931)
        If you think that's bad you should check out the $50 k scholarship recipients [davidsongifted.org]. My personal favorite is Philip Streich, who "designed and custom-built a unique photon-counting spectrometer, more sensitive and precise than any commercially available."
        • Re:How? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Bearpaw ( 13080 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:48PM (#25059303)

          If you think that's bad you should check out the $50 k scholarship recipients ...

          How much college does that cover these days, a little over a semester?

          • Re:How? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by servognome ( 738846 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @02:10PM (#25059715)
            Who needs an expensive college? Attend a cheap state school, use the leftover "living expense" money to start your own company.
            • Re:How? (Score:5, Insightful)

              by kklein ( 900361 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @05:23PM (#25062767)

              This is not good advice. This is the advice I was given (well, not the "leftover money" bit--who has leftover money in college?), and compared to my friends who didn't take it and went to expensive schools, things have been a lot harder for me.

              I teach university now, and let me tell you, after many years of being in college and several years on a faculty, how college works:

              The point is not the classes per se. It is very true that, education-wise, just about any decent school is going to be the same there. Learning (and I say this as a teacher) is a lot more about what you do than it is about what the teacher does. About all I can do as a teacher is hone, year after year, my tricks for explaining things. But these tricks come up like once or twice a semester. I can also do my best to choose materials that are going to give you the opportunity to learn. That's the trick of course design (and to be honest, I'm not very good at it--I let the people who are design my syllabi and just make tweaks for personal preference--mine or the students). If the point of college was to learn, the mystique of places like Harvard or Oxford or whatever would have gone away long ago.

              No, here's the real point of university: networking. And brand recognition.

              I had a friend who went to Harvard. His classes did not seem any different or better than mine at a cheap state university (Go Rams!). However, that guy walked out of Harvard into a job at MSNBC. I walked out and... Couldn't find a job for a few months... Then got a short-term job... Then crashed... Then had to go to grad school so I could get a job... Then got a short-term uni job... And now I'm getting another.

              Could I have done his job? Yeah, of course. But what got him there was the name value of Harvard and the contacts the school has. That, my friends, is worth the money.

              See, I believe that the "if you go to college, you'll get a better job" thing is a total anachronism. Back in the old days, only the super-wealthy or super-smart could go. So if you were a middle-class or poor kid who proved himself and got in with all these rich contacts, of course you got a good job. You were Dickie Jr.'s roommate from college. Dickie spent the rest of his life sportfishing and snorting cocaine off of debutantes, but you got a well-paying and interesting lifelong job.

              This isn't the case when everyone goes, or if you go to a cheaper/smaller/less-famous place. You don't meet Dickie Jr.; you meet Dirk, the kid from Grand Island, NE, who likes Purple Passion and Lynyrd Skynyrd. You don't have a contact with the owner of National Widget; you have a contact with the owner of Dirk Sr.'s feedlot.

              I got a great education, no doubt about that. But the contacts have been very hard to build from scratch. People can cry "cronyism," but let's be honest: if you were looking for a person with X skillset, and your son was close with someone who had that skillset, would you take a chance on a stranger or take the guy or girl you know? Most people want a safe bet more than anything, so they go with the safe choice: a known value.

              Now, I'm not even saying it has to be one of these A-list schools, necessarily, but you need to make sure that the department you are getting into is well-respected. My big, cheap state university is well-respected and well-connected in a number of fields. But I wasn't in them.

              This is what high schoolers should be told. Go for the most famous school you can get into, even if you have to go into major debt. You will probably go into debt regardless, at least if you go somewhere expensive you'll have a job to pay that debt off.

              If you're reading this and you're in a relatively unknown school: You can still build a network, but you're going to have to do it by hand. Get out there and start doing those damn internships, unpaid or not. I didn't understand why I should go to work for no money, especially when my grades were so good

              • Re:How? (Score:5, Informative)

                by servognome ( 738846 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @07:36PM (#25064475)

                I got a great education, no doubt about that. But the contacts have been very hard to build from scratch.

                You don't need an A-list school to build up your networking contacts. Internships, co-ops, clubs, and conferences are your best tools for networking. You're going to make a lot more networking contacts if you are on the solar car team at the University of Alabama than if you just go to class and don't do any extracurricular work at Cal Tech.

                This is what high schoolers should be told. Go for the most famous school you can get into, even if you have to go into major debt. You will probably go into debt regardless, at least if you go somewhere expensive you'll have a job to pay that debt off.

                No high schoolers need to be told get involved in something no matter what school you go to. You'll make more and more meaningful contacts if you get involved in a project, research, or something outside of the classroom no matter what school you go to.

                I had a friend who went to Harvard. His classes did not seem any different or better than mine at a cheap state university (Go Rams!). However, that guy walked out of Harvard into a job at MSNBC. I walked out and... Couldn't find a job for a few months... Then got a short-term job... Then crashed... Then had to go to grad school so I could get a job... Then got a short-term uni job... And now I'm getting another.

                The question I would ask you, is what did you do besides go to class while you were in school? Did you apply for internships, or more importantly co-ops? Did you search for opportunities that let you network?
                If you go to a decent state school you should have a number of opportunities for real world and academic networking. Early on in school spent my free time volunteering on projects doing whatever worthless junk I could - cataloging and archiving satellite photos from a NASA mission was a long, boring job that requires no skill or education. A friend of mine got his start helping sort parts for a robotics project and carrying junk across campus. What mattered was literally being in the room with the people I needed to network with. Eventually as my education built up to match my interests, I had the inside track to work on funded projects that sent me to various conferences and got my name out. When it came time, I didn't have to use my network to find a job, there were already people who were just waiting for me to graduate.

                Alternatively as another poster said, go to a high class graduate school. Where you go to for undergraduate work isn't as important as where you go for grad school, simply because grad school is more about doing research and getting funded than learning the basics.

      • by Brain-Fu ( 1274756 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:31PM (#25058959) Homepage Journal

        Is anybody else feeling really inadequate right now?

        It is nothing but our own pride that insists that we are either the best in the world, or completely worthless.

        There is a huge sliding grayscale of worthiness in the intellectual/industriousness domain.

        The world needs a rich supply of people spread across that middle range.

        In fact...the world needs the middlers more than it needs the geniuses. Given enough time the middlers can eventually get there on their own; the geniuses just accelerate the process a bit.

        Once in a while a genius will do something that no number of middlers could ever have accomplished...which is nice...but once the genius has done it, the rest of us can follow suit. So, while we may need the occasional genius, we really don't need very many of them...whereas large numbers of middlers are the foundation of stable technological progress.

        Drop the superego. Learn the value of who you already are, and be proud of it.

        • by e2d2 ( 115622 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:46PM (#25059261)

          Agreed, and the proof is throughout history, the "middlers" are usually the ones that piece the genius together into workable solutions. Genius usually doesn't have the patience to see it through.

        • by flosofl ( 626809 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @02:11PM (#25059717) Homepage

          Drop the superego

          But... the superego is the only thing between acting civilized and being a slave to my id. What you propose would lead to a world of people living only to sate the basest of desires. Kind of like Los Angeles.

        • by Starteck81 ( 917280 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @02:51PM (#25060401)

          It is nothing but our own pride that insists that we are either the best in the world, or completely worthless.

          There is a huge sliding grayscale of worthiness in the intellectual/industriousness domain.

          The world needs a rich supply of people spread across that middle range.

          Learn the value of who you already are, and be proud of it.

          You remind me of the book "Brave New World" where they learned to genetically engineer geniuses on a mass scale but went back to creating middle and lower classes because the geniuses wouldn't to manual labor jobs.

          In other words, the world needs ditch diggers.

          • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland.yahoo@com> on Thursday September 18, 2008 @03:44PM (#25061279) Homepage Journal

            Which is stupid, becasue even a genius will dig a ditch to survive. If you have an abundance of Geniuses, then they will do what the need to and make a buck. They may design a better way to do it, but it will get done none the less.

          • by QuantumPion ( 805098 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @04:35PM (#25062123)

            That's total crap. If the world were made up entirely of geniuses, they would invent robots to do all the ditch digging for them.

            100 years ago, something like 30% of the population were farmers. Now, it's more like 3%. Technology has increased productivity and allowed people to spend their time in other endeavors, like inventing the automated production line so that workers could move from assembly line to being engineers.

            It's not until the engineers/scientists invent a computer so smart [wikipedia.org] it can do our thinking for us that we have to worry. :)

        • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @03:20PM (#25060863) Journal

          Drop the superego. Learn the value of who you already are, and be proud of it.

          It sounds like what got you the problem that almost nobody wants to learn in school any more, eh? Learn the value of being a prom queen who'll either marry a millionaire (stiff competition there, though) or be a waitress for the rest of your days, and be proud of that. Or learn to be value of being the jock who _might_ one day get lucky and get into a minor league sports team, but most likely will operate a gas pump or maybe unload crates at Wall-Mart.

          Let's face it, in life you'll almost invariably hit lower than you aim. If you already aim low, you'll hit even lower. Starting from being nothing(*) and being proud and content with what you _already_ are (my emphasis) is a recipe for failure.

          (*) and being mommy and daddy's "special" darling doesn't count there. If that's all you are and aim no higher, you'll eventually grow out of that and with _nothing_.

          As for the middlers, I'll call bullshit on that feel-good fairy-tale. Historically the "middlers" were the guys ploughing the field and being plundered by both armies in a war. From the Roman Kingdom (yes, they were that before being a Republic, which they were before becoming an Empire) to some time during the 19'th century, that's what some 80% of the population was doing: the mind-numbingly boring task of walking behind a plough behind an ox or horse, holding onto the handles. Dawn to dusk. That's how the acre was even defined: how much a peasant can plough from dawn to dusk.

          Add some miners, craftsmen, mercenaries and the like, and that accounts for even more people.

          To even have the chance to be the guy who tinkers with a genius's ideas until they work, you had to be one of the most privileged 5% or less. The middlers were at best those guys kneading hides in dog shit (yes, that's how tanning worked) for the leather straps your invention needed. Or while those top few percent were busy inventing a better gun, the middlers were fermenting shit with piss to make saltpetre for that gun. Or while those top few were figuring out how to make a gothic cathedral (no mean feat, given the lack of even a mathematical notation you'd use these days), the middlers were hauling square slabs of rock for it. Stable contribution to technological progress of that middler gang: zero point zero.

          Valuable contributions, nevertheless, but spare me the bullshit self-fellatio that such middlers were what caused stable technological progress.

          Now I'm not saying you should go depressed about your skills or anything. But do aim higher, or you'll never improve. And spare us and yourself the bullshit story in which it's perfectly ok to be an underachiever and proud of it, and how such underachieving middlers had jack shit to do with technological progress.

      • Re:How? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mikael ( 484 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:54PM (#25059423)

        Not really. Probably, his father is a research scientist in the field.

        There was an article in the LA Times about how parents were using their contacts with research labs to get resources for their kids science fair project competitions - parents would do things like (a hypothetical example) getting a time-slot allocated on a supercomputer to run CFD simulations to design a turbine to capture energy from water running down a drain-pipe. Organisers of such events eventually made the restriction on the types of resources that could be used.

    • Re:How? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Chris Pimlott ( 16212 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:05PM (#25058487)

      From the synopsis on the Davidson Institute [davidsongifted.org] website, it sounds like he simulated the design with computer models but did not actually build it.

    • Re:How? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:16PM (#25058705) Homepage

      By asking and actually putting forth effort to find the resources to work on it.

      I learned electronics at the age of 8 by running around and digging in trash to find dead radios and other things for parts. I saved up the cash to buy the tools I needed (I used a wood burner for the first year as a soldering iron and plumbers solder)

      If you're not lazy and actually search for this stuff you can get it, most resources you need are all around you. A buddy of mine made an electric go kart one summer from old water pipe and car parts we found around town and we taught ourselves to stick weld by using a old lincoln stick welder his grandpa had and we picked up the last 4 inches of welding sticks at the local body shop and construction sites.

    • i lost to a chick who was performing live open heart surgery on rats

      i didn't feel inadequate: my parents weren't high ranking research scientists who could get the authorization to let their children have the run of the university research facilities on weekends

      and who i knows how much else her parents guided her through

      its far more impressive to build an aerodynamic soap box derby car out of balsa wood than it is to turn the ignition on your dad's cessna

      well, in terms of personal achievement that is

      i'm not saying i'd rather play with balsa wood than a cessna ;-)

    • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @02:57PM (#25060499) Journal

      How do people that young get access to tools to build these things?

      At this point (according to one of TFAs, the other is slashdotted) it looks like he hasn't built anything. He's only done some modeling. Now he's looking for somebody to build a prototype and see if the real world behaves like the model.

      And if it doesn't it's not his fault - it's the tool's.

      So your question should be "How do people that young get access to tools to model these things?"

      Answer: Good schools, good teachers, and maybe a corporate grant program.

      Any bets on whether Meadow Park Middle School is a government-run public school?

  • by DeadDecoy ( 877617 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @12:56PM (#25058289)
    So does anyone know what 3d shape he used to achieve a 500x efficiency gain? I would RTFA but it appears to have been slashdotted.
    • by ksheff ( 2406 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:01PM (#25058415) Homepage

      William Yuan's bright idea to create a new, more efficient solar cell earned him top honors as Oregon's only 2008 Davidson Fellow.

      As part of the honor, the 12-year-old Bethany boy will be flown to Washington, D.C., for a reception Sept. 24 at the Library of Congress where he will receive his award and a $25,000 scholarship from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.

      "William's work was evaluated by university professors and environmental scientists," said Tacie Moessner, Davidson Fellows program manager in a call from Reno, Nev. "They look for the project's potential to benefit society and make sure it is socially relevant. Generally, the projects need to be at the graduate level."

      Yuan worked on his project for the past two years with the encouragement of his science teacher Susan Duncan; support of his parents Gang Yuan and Zhiming Mei; and counsel of professional mentors Professor Chunfei Li of Portland State University's Center for Nanofabrication and Electron Microscopy, Fred Li of Applied Materials Inc. and Professor Shaofan Li of the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of California - Berkeley.

      "He is our youngest fellow in science that we've ever had," Moessner said. "He is really spectacular.

      "His project will really make a difference in advancing the technology of solar cells. You would never know he's 12 looking at the quality of his work."
      Young talent

      William Yuan is a seventh-grader in Meadow Park Middle School's Summa options program.

      He is an active member of the school's Math Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) Club, First Lego League team and participant in the Science Bowl and MathCounts programs. He is also a two-time, second-place chess champion for the state.

      Recognizing his interest in science, math and engineering, Yuan's science teacher encouraged him to tackle a challenging engineering project for the Northwest Science Expo after introducing him to nanotechnology and renewable energy research.

      "We learned about some great energy and environmental issues," Yuan said. "To try to help, I researched the application of nanotechnology and renewable energy.

      "I felt they would best complement my background knowledge and experience. After extensive research and community outreach, I wanted to work on a project to find a solution for some of the problems of the world."

      Yuan decided to focus his project on finding the most efficient way to harness the sun's energy.

      "I felt solar energy had large potential but it was underused," he explained. "Fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas are only finite and are slated to run out by 2050.

      "We need to make solar energy more cost effective and efficient."

      With that thought in mind, Yuan got to work.

      "Current solar cells are flat and can only absorb visible light," he said. "I came up with an innovative solar cell that absorbs both visible and UV light. My project focused on finding the optimum solar cell to further increase the light absorption and efficiency and design a nanotube for light-electricity conversion efficiency."

      Yuan invested countless hours in his research, seeking out new resources in the field to find a workable real-world solution.

      "He has worked very hard in the past couple years," his father Gang Yuan said. "We're grateful that he had great mentors and teachers to guide him.

      "When he started on his research, he had great curiosity and wanted to dig into it more. As his parents, we looked for experiences to help him."

      Watching his dedication impressed William's parents.

      "This generation's sense of urgency is much stronger than my generation's," his father said. "They are thinking about the future and want to know how environmental issues will impact their generation."
      Promising future

      Tapping into that talent and giving gifted youth the opportunity to excel is what the Davidson Institute is all about.

      The national nonprofit organization recognized 20 students this year for their

    • by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) * <jmorris AT beau DOT org> on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:02PM (#25058423)

      > So does anyone know what 3d shape he used to achieve a 500x efficiency gain?

      Since solar cells passed .5% with the first one, unless this kid attends Hogwarts this story is just this week's solar snake oil.

  • Amazing... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Oxy the moron ( 770724 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @12:57PM (#25058309)

    If his idea works as well stated in the article, the guy deserves more than "a $25,000 scholarship from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development." The fact that it's a seventh grader makes it even more astounding.

  • Really? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hays ( 409837 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @12:58PM (#25058325)

    I thought multi-layered solar cells which captured increasingly high energy photos were common. I thought there were clearly understood theoretical limits on conversion efficiency, and that it would not be remotely possible to get 500 times more light absorption than currently achieved. I'm extremely skeptical.

  • Profit! (Score:5, Funny)

    by RabidMoose ( 746680 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @12:58PM (#25058335) Homepage
    1) Write down kid's name 2) Buy stock in whoever picks him up 3) Profit! Hang on, I've got too many filled out steps...
  • "Furthermore...

    OMG! Zerg Rush! KEKEKEKEKEKEKE"

    apologies, i had to bring the discussion down to my iq level at his age

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:03PM (#25058457) Homepage Journal

    You can't absorb more light than is there.

    I'm not doubting that this is an idea with merit, but IIRC current PV cells are about 10% efficient, recent one being rather better. I can conceive (although I'd be skeptical) of a cell that captures 500% of the energy that similarly priced cells do, which would amount to 50% efficiency. That's seems almost too good to be true, but not nearly as impossible as getting 50x more energy out than the Sun puts in.

    • by SengirV ( 203400 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:14PM (#25058641)

      Sounds like the usual problems with stories concerning science - The reporter chose that line of study in college because they could barely pass the remedial math classes.

      My guess is that someone said that for a given 2D footprint, this could capture 500 time more if you stack these #D objects 50 high. Something you generally don't do with a 2D panel.

      The reporter, being distracted by a piece of lint, heard that and wrote "500 times more efficient".

  • 500 times? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nietsch ( 112711 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:06PM (#25058507) Homepage Journal

    So TFAbstract suggests that conventional solar cells absorb less then 0.2% of the available light? I call big BS on that, it is not even energy conversion, just absorbtion. So his new toy may only be getting hot in the sun, not doing anything usefull.
    Now on to the article itself, see if it was only the submitter or more that did not grasp physics.

  • by Chirs ( 87576 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:09PM (#25058559)

    I call shenanigans. Current standard solar cells are more than 0.2% efficient, so a 500x improvement would capture more energy than the sun puts out.

    While this could certainly improve the energy budget, it has the minor problem that it violates the laws of physics.

  • Amazing! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Geoffrey.landis ( 926948 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:15PM (#25058665) Homepage
    From TOA:

    Solar panels with his 3D cells would provide 500 times more light absorption than commercially-available solar cells and nine times more than cutting-edge 3D solar cells.

    Since commercially-available solar cells in fact absorb more than 90% of the light in the usable bands-- and about fifty percent over the whole solar spectrum, including the non-usable wavelenghts-- that's pretty darn amazing.

  • But (Score:5, Informative)

    by Joe Snipe ( 224958 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:47PM (#25059277) Homepage Journal

    what about these guys? [whatsnextnetwork.com]
    They have been researching (and producing) cells like this for years; anyone see how they are different?

  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) * on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:50PM (#25059337) Homepage Journal
    his 3D cells would provide 500 times more light absorption than commercially-available solar cells

    Since commercially-available solar cells convert around 10% of the incident light to electricity, we can safely say that they are "absorbing" at least 10%.

    So, if they absorb 500 times that amount we have a solar cell with 500*10% = 5000% conversion efficiency!

    YOWZAH!!!

    Now the skeptics out there will claim that this violates conservation of energy, but did they stop to consider that his may be a new form of low temperature solid state nuclear fusion merely catalyzed by solar radiation???

    HMMMMM?????

  • by Ingolfke ( 515826 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @01:52PM (#25059391) Journal

    1) Develop 3d nanotube solar cell
    2) Win science contest
    3) Complete manufacturing tests
    4) Manufacture
    5) Become billionaire...
    6) Jill Smith will like me! x0x0x

  • by divisionbyzero ( 300681 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @02:19PM (#25059865)

    "At first, he couldn't believe his calculations.

    "This solar cell can't be generating this much electricity, it can't be absorbing this much extra light," he recalled thinking."

    And then he realized he should have divided instead of multiplied.

  • Really? 500 times? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @02:41PM (#25060219) Homepage

    > his 3D cells would provide 500 times more light absorption

    Bogus alert! BWEEEP BWEEEP! Bogus alert!

    Quantum efficiency of current silicon-based cells in most of the visible light range is on the order of 90%. Look it up. (here, be lazy http://pvcdrom.pveducation.org/CELLOPER/QUANTUM.HTM)

    To satisfy your curiosity, the reason the very best silicon-based cells have about 22% _electrical_efficiency_ in spite of capturing 90% or more of the incoming light is due to a wide variety of reasons, including:

    1) re-radiating of the energy in the IR
    2) electron mobility issues, getting trapped at impurities and such
    3) recombination, where the ejected electron finds another hole before flowing out of the circuit - this becomes more of an issue for shorter wavelengths (blue, violet, UV)
    4) not making it to a conductor on the surface; you can add more conductor but that blocks more light.
    5) The #1 reason is that a single bandgap, like in a normal solar cell, can only extract a single amount of energy out of the photoelectrons. For silicon the cutoff is in the red. That means that the extra energy in blue light (or green, yellow, and especially UV) is wasted, turning into heat. You can tune the bandgap up to get more of that energy, but that means you can no longer capture the long-wavelengths and all of that energy down there is lost. It's a catch-22.

    So adding "500 times" the absorption is, obviously, impossible. Now its possible this is 500x in the UV, but surface recombination wipes that out anyway. To solve THAT you have to use multi-junction cells. They're in production already, but extremely expensive. So again...

    Bogus alert! BWEEEP BWEEEP! Bogus alert!

    Maury

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll invite himself over for dinner. - Calvin Keegan

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