Looking into fly eyes for the perfect solar cell; embracing chaos to improve solar power; and printing high-temperature superconductors

Australian Institute of Physics Congress, Media releases

bannerThursday 8 December 2016

On the final day of the Physics Congress in Brisbane we’re hearing about inventions that could change the way we generate and store power.

Researchers available for interview, contact Toni Stevens on 0401 763 130 or toni@scienceinpublic.com.au

QUT researchers spot solar revolution in fly eyes


The compound eyes of flies have inspired QUT researchers hunting for the perfect solar cell.

Fly eyes have evolved over millions of years to make the most of the tiny amount of visible light that hits them in a brilliant example of natural nanotechnology. The team’s zinc-oxide replicas pull off the same tricks, using a three-zone structure copied straight from a real-life fly. The bio-inspired nanomaterial captures energy across a wide solar spectrum using only one material, something that conventional solar panels struggle to achieve with a plethora of metals. The fly-eye solution comes “very close to perfection,” says Dr Ziqi Sun, and could readily be incorporated into modern solar cells for an impressive boost in energy harvesting.

At the conference Ziqi will talk about the underlying technology that he and his colleagues have developed to make nano-structures using sheets of metal oxides. The new solar cell design will be published in Materials Today Chemistry.

Printing high-temperature super-conductors one atom at a time

High temperature superconductors are the Holy Grail for condensed matter physicists and nano-engineers, and would revolutionise everything from power generation and transmission, to the design of electrical devices and batteries, by eliminating resistance and reducing power losses. Professor Qi-Kun Xue, director of China’s State Key Lab of Low-Dimensional Quantum Physics, has been working on atomic scale assembly of electrical components and thinks there may be a way to print high-temperature (greater than minus 135 degrees Celsius) superconductors. He’s proposing a level of precision that was difficult to achieve before, creating atomic-level control of matter by combining molecular beam epitaxy, scanning tunnelling microscopy, and angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy.

Embracing life’s chaos to improve solar power

Organic solar cells promise to be cheap, lightweight and flexible solutions to generate power—but how do they actually work? Samantha Hood from the University of Queensland thinks chaos is the key. Unlike a lot of artificial materials, which have a meticulously regular structure, organic materials tend to be all over the place. Yet somehow, when illuminated, these materials reliably separate positive from negative charges­—the basis of all electricity generation. Samantha’s modelling has shown that disorder weakens the attraction between charges and helps electrons make the leap from donor to acceptor. The insight could help our engineers make better, cleaner solar cells.

Also today:

  • Australian kids are falling behind in science and maths education, so what can we do about it? Harvard Professor and leading physics educator Eric Mazur has some ideas.
  • The quantum manifesto— Professor Alain Aspect will explain why Europe is investing one billion euro in the second quantum revolution, which is also being supported by IBM, Microsoft, Google and Intel.
  • And at breakfast, speakers will discuss how we can engage more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with physics, at the school, university and the research level.