The National Science Foundation puts its money on Northern Illinois University to forward a green technology. Dr. Tao Xu hopes his tiny idea leads to some big power production.
When we think about turning sunlight into energy it's often solar panels but Professor Xu Tao Xu wants to change how the technology to gather that energy works. And the NSF gave him a rare grant to do it.
"CAREER awards only fund those who could potentially become the leaders in the field," says Dr. Xu, a chemistry and biochemistry professor.
Dr. Xu's nanoscience research program at Northern wants to develop the solar cells of the future. He says thin solar cells generate more energy but trap less light. Thick cells gather more light, but create less power. In his research, Dr. Xu's trying to prove by folding the cells on a very small, nano-level he can make the cells better light catchers.
"We are not just going to fold it regularly. We fold it in a special optical structure so that the light can be trapped into this structure. And even the first time that the light hits on this materials and it does not generate a charge, they will bounce back inside the structure and we will have multiple chance to absorb the light," says Dr. Xu.
Right now Dr. Xu and his researchers are only making about one inch size templates to try out their theory. But if the idea works, he says it could turn solar energy into something everyone uses.
"We hope it can be applied to other types of solar cells to enhance efficiency and reduce the cost," says Dr. Xu.
He will get the $400-thousand CAREER grant over the next 5 years. CAREER awards support junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research.