David Kirkpatrick

November 16, 2009

Beautiful nanotech image — photovoltaic solar cell

This is a nice gallery of nanotech images from New Scientist. Here’s the description from the series, “Chemist George Whitesides has collaborated with MIT and Harvard photographer-in-residence Felice Frankel to produce No Small Matter, a book of images of the micro and nanoworld.”

From the first image, my favorite:

Sun catchers

This is a close-up of the top side of a photovoltaic solar cell. The cell converts the energy from the sun’s photons into electrical energy by taking advantage of the photo-electric effect. This cell is made of a wafer of crystalline silicon.

Light is absorbed by the wafer and creates charge that is collected by silver conductor lines, shown in the image as the gold-coloured strip. The cell is coated with silicon nitride which acts as an anti-reflective surface, preventing light energy from bouncing away and giving the cell its blue-violet colour.

Rather than attaching solar panels to our roofs, recent research suggests that in the future we could paint solar cells on to our houses, removing the need to rely on expensive silicon wafers.

(Image: Felice Frankel)

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