science tech alternative_energy solar_power electricity physics singlet_fission electrons
New Technology Could Boost Solar Cell Efficiency By 30 Percent

by Ker Than, Inside Science

Scientists looking to boost the efficiency of solar panels are taking a fresh look at an exotic physics phenomenon first observed nearly 50 years ago in glowing crystals.

Called singlet fission, the process can enable a single photon of light to generate two electrons instead of just one. This one-to-two conversion, as the process is known, has the potential to boost solar cell efficiency by as much as 30 percent above current levels, according to a new review paper published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters.

Singlet fission “was originally proposed to explain some weird results that were observed in fluorescent organic crystals,” said the study’s first author Christopher Bardeen, a chemist at the University of California, Riverside. “It received a lot of attention in the 1960s and 1970s, but then it was mostly forgotten.”

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Flow Masters

by Michael Keller

Over the last decade, materials scientists have been trying really hard to keep from getting wet. To that end, they’ve made huge strides developing coatings that so thoroughly repel dirt and water, they seem almost magic. Their secret? Recreating the nanoscale structures that some organisms employ to stay clean and dry and to redirect liquid flow. 

Among researchers’ muses from the natural world are the stenocara beetle, lotus and nasturtium leaves, and the wings of butterflies. The National Science Foundation has compiled some compelling visual examples of natural and synthesized superhydrophobic surfaces. See the full video below. 

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A Physician In Every Pocket

by Michael Keller

In a subterranean lab at the far corner of Columbia University’s main New York City campus, a couple of men in lab coats and safety glasses discuss a problem in their research. Across the hall, a woman attired similarly is at work in the machine shop. Glassware, chemicals in jugs, tubing and various equipment cover what seems like every corner of bench space.

These people are part of Samuel Sia’s 30-member crack team of chemists, biologists and engineers. Sia, a biomedical engineer, has gathered them together to help foment a medical revolution.

Their idea: to outsource to individuals and family doctors the tests that are now the exclusive domain of centralized labs and hospitals. Their weapons are a new crop of coming diagnostic technologies that are smaller, cheaper and smarter than anything on the market today. Inherent to this change in the business model is the jailbreak of patients’ medical data from healthcare facilities and insurance companies back to the patient and doctor from where it came.

“Whenever we want to know about our own body, we have to go through the healthcare system,” Sia tells Txchnologist. “You shouldn’t have to do that. Are you vitamin deficient? Do you have the flu? Are you trying to get pregnant? What is that new Mediterranean diet doing to your body? You should be able to monitor your own body, but right now it’s out of your hands.”

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RFID Tags Show Elite Bees Are Made, Not Born

by Michael Keller

Some bees in a hive have a right to complain. Researchers studying individual foraging behavior found that a minority group of elite colony members work much harder than others. 

By attaching tiny radio frequency identification tags to the backs of bees, University of Illinois scientists realized that 20 percent of bees that leave the nest to forage account for 50 percent of the total food brought back.

“We found that some bees are working very, very hard – as we would have expected,” said lead researcher Gene Robinson, who heads the university’s Institute for Genomic Biology. “But then we found some other bees that were not working as hard as the others.”

Read more and check out the video below.

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