The power of small and light

Media releases, nanophotonics

Nano solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems-cheap and reliable solar power; faster computers; customised materials; vast data storage; more powerful microscopes; new medical therapies- announced at an international conference in Melbourne this week.

Today’s stories are:

Cheaper, more efficient solar cells

Martin Green from the University of New South Wales, who produces the world’s most efficient solar cells, is talking about how nanophotonics can boost solar cell performance.

One exciting advance is using plasmons-waves of electrons-which can dramatically increase efficiency by collecting and transporting the energy of light along the surface of solar cells.

Romain Quidant from the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Barcelona will discuss how to control plasmons, and Fiona Beck from the Australian National University has been studying how to use plasmons to enhance the light trapping capacity of surfaces.

And meet Shi Zhengrong, the entrepreneur who used Australian R&D to create China’s Suntech, the world’s largest producer of high efficiency solar cells. His company has recently announced an agreement with Swinburne University of Technology to develop new technology based on plasmonics, the study of surface waves of electrons, which they believe can make solar cells twice as efficient for half the cost. He will be available for interview at 10 am on Monday.

Printing energy

Andrew Holmes from Melbourne University’s Bio21 Institute will tell about a different approach to solar power. He works on the chemistry behind plastic, printable solar cells. The materials produced in his laboratory are much less efficient than silicon at converting sunlight to electricity, but they are inexpensive, can be turned out on a printing press, and wrapped around anything from roofs to light poles. There are now more than 100 researchers in Australia working in the area, because it provides a practical solar energy solution.

300 movies on a single disc

Peter Zijlstra, James Cho and Min Gu of Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology will talk about how to use embedded tiny rods of gold to produce optical discs which can store up to 10,000 times as much data as 3-D hologram discs today. The new technique which was outlined in a recent edition of Nature stores data in not only three spatial dimensions, but also in terms of colour and degree of polarisation of light.

Light and sensitive

Zeev Zalevsky from Bar-Ilan University in Israel has been trapping and manipulating tiny particles of gold to create light sensors on a silicon chip. He has also been using light to create sensitive monitors of heart beats and blood pressure. Meanwhile Ewa Goldys of Macquarie University has been utilising fluorescence to detect where metals are in molecular structures.

Learning from plants

Greg Scholes from the University of Toronto has been studying how absorbed light energy can be best transferred to where it can be used. Plants do this all the time during photosynthesis when they store solar energy in the form of sugar. David Officer from the University of Wollongong is looking at replicating photosynthesis as a means of producing economical solar cells and of generating hydrogen from water.

Cleaning up the world

Max Lu from the University of Queensland has been constructing layered materials incorporating titanium dioxide. These nanomaterials hold the promise of cleaning up air and water by breaking down pollutants.

Nanophotonics Down Under 2009 Devices and Applications is running at the Melbourne Convention Centre. It is one of the Sir Mark Oliphant series of conferences on the International Frontiers of Science and Technology funded by the Australian Government and managed by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) and the Australian Academy of Science with the support of Swinburne University of Technology and the Australian Research Council’s Nanotechnology Network.

For further information, contact Meg Caffin for ATSE, 03 9864 0909, 0413 949 641,