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Routes of Captured Light

By following energy flowing through new materials, the next generation of solar cells is being revealed.

It’s hard getting energy out of a solar cell. As excitement builds over the expansion of renewable energy resources, further improvement of the base technologies is being achieved using ultrafast laser techniques to take snapshots of the state of new materials- snapshots only a millionth of a billionth of a second long.

In my research, I am helping build a picture of how captured light’s energy is flowing: where it is getting caught in slow traffic or taking the wrong exit. Up to now we have not been able to achieve a detailed understanding of the fundamental performance of the newest, most promising nanomaterials. By using this ultrafast photoluminescence technique we will be able to design cheaper, more efficient solar cells than ever before. With this information, new materials are being developed with fast tracks for captured light to more efficiently be turned into the electricity we use to power our homes and industries.

The growing challenge of providing energy sustainably motivates the efforts to more effectively harness the energy of the sun. I am working to track motion of energy through materials including nanowires, nanocrystals, and perovskites. I expose these materials to an ultrashort burst of light, which causes photovoltaic materials to absorb and then emit a small portion of the light. By concentrating this emitted light and concentrating a second ultrashort burst together, snapshots of the light emission can be selected out to reveal how energy is moving within the emitting material. By tracking this motion, I hope to discover a means of efficiently capturing the energy from the light absorbed in these materials.

 

Gregory Tainter

PhD Student

Department of Engineering

 

Cover Image- Paul Reiffer- National Geographic

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