New Science for September 2015

sun9501I titled this blog New Science because the breakthroughs I’m covering today are more scientific breakthroughs that will require a lot of effort to turn into usable technology. But the potential for these breakthroughs are immense.

Massless Particles. A team led by Zahid Hasan at Princeton has found a massless particle called the Weyl fermion that could lead to much faster electronics in the future. The particle has been predicted but never before found. Fermions are the elementary particles that make up electrons, and as such are massless.

These Weyl fermions can carry a charge much more efficiently than normal electrons and could be used instead of electrons to power electronics. Electrons act erratically and bounce all over the place, but it’s believed that the Wehl fermions would be far more predictable while carrying a charge, and could travel as much as 1,000 times faster through normal semiconductors. The Weyl fermion’s spin is both in the same direction as its motion (which physicists call ‘right-handed) and opposite its direction (‘left-handed’) at the same time. This means that all the fermions move in exactly the same way and can traverse through and around obstacles that scatter normal electrons.

What’s best about these particles is that the researchers found them in a synthetic crystal, which means that they can be easily produced, while many other exotic particles only exist due to the high energy of a particle accelerator.

Practical Superconductor. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany have created a superconductor that works at a reasonably warm temperature. In the past superconductors have needed extremely cold temperatures of -220 degrees Fahrenheit to work. These temperatures are far too cold for practical applications. The new superconductor works at -90 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that is found in nature in Antarctica, and which is by far the warmest temperature that has produced the superconductor effect.

The new superconductor uses hydrogen sulfide, the rotten egg smelling gas, to create the superconductor. Scientists believe if they can find the right materials that they can eventually create superconductors that can work at room temperatures. If so, then electronics and computers can be made far more efficient.

Transporting Light over Distance. Researchers at the Universities of Bayreuth and Erlangen-Nurenberg in Germany have demonstrated how carbon nanofibers might be used to transport light energy efficiently across great distances. All of today’s technologies scatter the light to some degree, which means that when generating solar power we have to convert light to electricity at the site of the light collection.

The nanofibers were made from building blocks called carbonyl-bridged triarylamine. They were then enhanced by inserting three naphthalimidbithiophene chromophores. The resulting nanotubes automatically aligned themselves into tubes of 4 micrometers long with a diameter of only 0.005 micrometers. The nanotubes then naturally align face-to-face and can efficiently transfer light energy with almost no loss. This results is light being transmitted in a wave-like manner called quantum coherence. The potential of this technology would be to gather light and transmit it to a place where the conversion to electricity can be done more efficiently.

Quantum Dot Solar Windows. A team from the Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics (CASP) of Los Alamos and from the Department of Materials Science of the University of Milan-Bicocca (UNIMIB) in Italy have developed a way to generate solar energy from clear window glass. They showed this can be done using colorless heavy-metal free colloidal quantum dots that act as luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs).

The clear quantum dots are embedded within the glass and are aligned in such a way that they reflect some of the light to receivers at the edge of the glass panes. The quantum dots are a huge leap forward in LSC technology. Previous LSC technology has consisted either of organic emitters that were inefficient or heavy-metal emitters that were toxic and dangerous to put into the environment. The new quantum dots are made from copper, indium, selenium, and sulfur, all of which are routinely found in the environment and safe. The dots are several magnitudes more efficient than earlier technologies and could turn any window into a solar collector.

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