Buddhist inspired solar cells and the Eureka Prize winners revealed on Wednesday night

Bulletins, Eureka Prizes, Fresh Science, Media bulletins, Science stakeholder bulletins
The Face of a Moth
  • Today: a singing prayer bowl has inspired an ANU scientist to re-think the way that solar cells are designed.
  • Today to Wednesday evening: Eureka Prize finalists available for interview.
  • Wednesday night: the 2014 Eureka Prize winners are announced at a grand dinner at Sydney Town Hall.
  • Also revealed on Wednesday: the top science photograph for 2014, available for publication along with all the highly commended photos, including this one: The face of a Moth, by Ralph Grimm.

And finally, a quick thank you to everyone at Radio Australia for your interest in our stories over the years. We were shocked by the scale of the cuts and wish everyone leaving the best. Our friends in CSIRO have also taken big cuts including some 40 communication jobs. 

The EurekasAus Musuem Eureka Prizes logo

There are 44 finalists from every State competing for 15 Eureka Prizes, with a prize pool of $150,000.

The finalists have invented:

  • A $2 microscope that turns your smartphone into a mobile, web-enabled lab (Canberra/Sydney)
  • A virtual planet that allows you to move continents around (Sydney)
  • A DVD that’s fighting parasitic worms in China (Brisbane/Canberra)

They’ve discovered:

  • Which Mallee animals thrive on bushfire, and which take decades to recover (Melbourne)
  • How to produce 50 per cent more grain without using more water (Canberra)
  • What tree rings, coral growth, ice cores, old newspapers, and leather-bound weather journals reveal about our changing climate (Melbourne)


  • Revealed early indicators of Alzheimer’s by studying 1,400 people (Perth/Melbourne)
  • Explored ocean acidification from the polar seas to the Great Barrier Reef (Sydney/Townsville)
  • Filmed ‘the crusty blue stuff’ on trees-a Newcastle student exploring lichen (NSW)

There’s a full list of finalists at http://australianmuseum.net.au/2014-Finalists-Eureka and clips of them on https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLEh1S0YpN667jl2RRl-zKj9y-QW07nRVR

The 15 winners will become available for interview as the prizes are announced – from about 7.30 pm to 10 pm AEST Wednesday 10 September) – get in touch if there are any finalists or winners you’d like to talk to.

You can also follow along on Twitter @EurekaPrizes and #Eureka14 where the winners will be announced the moment their names are read out on stage.

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the country’s most comprehensive national science awards, honouring excellence in Research and Innovation, Leadership, Science Communication and Journalism, and School Science.

The Eureka Prizes have been rewarding science since 1990-celebrating 25 years in 2014.

Also revealed on Wednesday: the top science photograph for 2014

Three images have been named as finalists for the New Scientist Eureka Prize for Science Photography. Seven more photographs were highly commended by judges, and all 10 images are online at australianmuseum.net.au/eureka and are available for publication.

Here’s one of the finalists:

Unravelling a basket star

Photo©CharlesTambiah_BasketStar0676Charles Tambiah from the ACT has composed a striking image of a basket star by combining fibre-optics and imaging software to ‘paint’ hidden spaces.

The winners of all 15 prizes will be announced in the presence of 660 science, government, culture and media leaders at the Eureka Prizes Award Dinner at Sydney Town Hall.

For media enquiries please contact the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes media team:

For more information about the Prizes visit http://australianmuseum.net.au/eureka

For details of the finalists visit http://australianmuseum.net.au/2014-Finalists-Eureka

Buddhist singing bowls inspire new tandem solar cell design

Researcher available for interview, with prayer bowl and solar cells logo - in association

The shape of a centuries-old Buddhist singing bowl has inspired a Canberra scientist to re-think the way that solar cells are designed to maximize their efficiency.

Dr Niraj Lal, of the Australian National University, found during his PhD at the University of Cambridge, that small nano-sized versions of Buddhist singing bowls resonate with light in the same way as they do with sound, and he’s applied this shape to solar cells to increase their ability to capture more light and convert it into electricity.

“Current standard solar panels lose a large amount of light-energy as it hits the surface, making the panels’ generation of electricity inefficient,” says Niraj. “But if the cells are singing bowl-shaped, then the light bounces around inside the cell for longer.”

Normally used in meditation, music, and relaxation, Buddhist singing bowls make a continuous harmonic ringing sound when the rim of the metal bowl is vibrated with a wooden or other utensil.

During his PhD, Niraj discovered that his ‘nanobowls’ manipulated light by creating a ‘plasmonic’ resonance, which quadrupled the laboratory solar cell’s efficiency compared to a similarly made flat solar cell.

Now, Niraj and his team aim to change all that by applying his singing-bowl discovery to tandem solar cells: a technology that has previously been limited to aerospace applications.

In research which will be published in the November issue of IEEE Journal of Photonics, Niraj and his collegues have shown that by layering two different types of solar panels on top of each other in tandem, the efficiency of flat rooftop solar panels can acheive 30 per cent-currently, laboratory silicon solar panels convert only 25 per cent of light into electricity, while commerical varieties convert closer to 20 per cent.

Niraj Lal Credit OK-White Lane (2)

The tandem cell design works by absorbing sunlight more effectively-each cell is made from a different material so that it can ‘see’ a different light wavelength.

“To a silicon solar cell, a rainbow just looks like a big bit of red in the sky-they don’t ‘see’ the blue, green or UV light-they convert all light to electricity as if it was red ,” says Niraj. “But when we put a second cell on top, which ‘sees’ the blue part of light, but allows the red to pass through to the ‘red-seeing’ cell below, we can reach a combined efficiency of more than 30 percent.”

Niraj and a team at ANU are now looking at ways to super-charge the tandem cell design by applying the Buddhist singing bowl shape to further increase efficiency.

“If we can make a solar cell that ‘sees’ more colours and keeps the right light in the right layers, then we could increase efficiency even further,” says Niraj.

“Every extra percent in efficiency saves you thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the panel,” says Niraj. “Current roof-top solar panels have been steadily increasing in efficiency, which has been a big driver of the fourfold drop in the price for these panels over the last five years.”

More importantly, says Niraj, greater efficiency will allow solar technology to compete with fossil fuels and meet the challenges of climate change and access.

“Electricity is also one of the most enabling technologies we have ever seen, and linking people in rural areas around the world to electricity is one of the most powerful things we can do.”

Niraj was a 2014 national finalist of FameLab Australia. FameLab is a global science communication competition for early-career scientists. His work is supported by the Australian Research Council and ARENA – the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Full release and image available at: http://www.scienceinpublic.com.au/media-releases/solarbowl

Media Contacts:

Dr Niraj Lal, Australian National University, 0421 090 940, niraj.lal@anu.edu.au

Toni Stevens, Science in Public, 0401 763 130, toni@scienceinpublic.com.au

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