MIT’s Quantum Process Can Extract More Solar Energy From Photons


MIT-Absorbing-photons-1_0Short Bytes: A research has been conducted the Massachusetts Institute Of Technology (MIT), that focuses on harnessing more solar energy from the photons striking a metal surface. A new quantum process has been discovered which increases the number of electrons produced when the light falls on a given metal surface coated with some dielectric material.  

The quest to harness solar energy has been a topic of research since the last few decades, and a new entry in this field has been made by the experiment conducted at MIT. It included researches from other big names like Stanford, Harvard, University of California, Sandia National Laboratories, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory etc., and is supported by National Science Foundation and the Air-Force Office of Scientific Research.

The experiment derives its theoretical roots from the concept photoelectric effect that we’ve been familiar since we ‘somehow’ cleared out high school exams. So, after the researchers passed there high school and then their college like all of us, but they didn’t stop there, they had this urge to do some research on how to harness more solar energy from photons.

Their experiment was based on a discovery that the displacement of charged particles, electrons and holes, increases due to some unexpected quantum effects when the photons of lights at different wavelengths strike a metal surface coated with some oxide material known as hi-index dielectrics. For experiment, they took a silver foil coated with some oxide layer.

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The new finding was reported in the Physics Review Letters journal by authors Nicolas Fang and Dafei Jin. When the photons strike the metal surface, they get absorbed and an oscillating electron cloud of the same frequency as of the absorbed photons, called “surface plasmon”, is created above the metal surface. Fang says:

Our study reveals a surprising fact: Absorption of visible light is directly controlled by how deeply the electrons spill over the interface between the metal and the dielectric.

You’ll be surprised to know that the whole research was actually misinterpreted as a defect in the material used when earlier experiments showed the electron cloud formation. By altering the composition and thickness of the dielectric layer used in the experiment they can control the amount of energy that is being transferred from the striking photons into generation of electron-hole pairs. Additionally, their experimental setup is capable to absorb light waves of different wavelengths.

The thin dielectric layer used in the experiment enhances the efficiency of the system by a considerable amount, and thus, will help creating much thinner  and cost-efficient solar cells as compared to today’s silicon based cells. “We could detect or receive signals as a shorter pulse”, said Fang, when he pointed towards the broadband responsiveness of their system, which can help in creating much faster Li-Fi systems.

Maiken Mikkelsen, a physics assistant professor at the Duke University, added:

Probing these quantum effects is very challenging both theoretically and experimentally, and this discovery of enhanced absorption based on quantum corrections represents an important leap forward. I think there is no doubt that harnessing the quantum properties of nanomaterials is bound to create future technological breakthroughs.

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Although he was a part of the experiment. “This finding “has profound implications for our understanding of quantum plasmonics”, said Danish professor N. Asger Mortensen.

Recall your physics concepts and write your thoughts in the comments section below.

Aditya Tiwari

Aditya Tiwari

Aditya likes to cover topics related to Microsoft, Windows 10, Apple Watch, and interesting gadgets. But when he is not working, you can find him binge-watching random videos on YouTube (after he has wasted an hour on Netflix trying to find a good show). Reach out at [email protected]
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