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New Metamaterial Means More Efficient Solar Cells

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the harness-this-stupid-sun dept.

Power 94

ElectricSteve writes "Metamaterials are man-made substances designed to do some very weird things that natural materials don't. The path of a beam of light through a natural material like glass is predictable, but scientists from the California Institute of Technology have engineered an optical material that bends light in the wrong direction. This new negative-index metamaterial (NIM) could have several valuable uses including invisibility cloaking, superlensing (imaging nano-scale objects using visible light), and improved light collection in solar cells."

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Oh noes (4, Funny)

Linker3000 (626634) | more than 4 years ago | (#32168474)

...and frikkin sharks who can fire round corners.

Re:Oh noes (1)

insufflate10mg (1711356) | more than 4 years ago | (#32170836)

Very curious as to how this new technology has any application. Would someone please explain to me what it does? We can transmit light through a solid at any angle (glass? lenses?) and we can reflect light at any angle (mirrors, lenses?). What door does this new "metamaterial" open up?

Re:Oh noes (1)

khellendros1984 (792761) | more than 4 years ago | (#32172702)

If I understand it correctly, then in the example of a more efficient solar collector, this material could act as a lens that bends light in ways that it wouldn't normally go. For instance, taking light from all angles and focusing it onto the cell. It's basically a lens that can internally act like a mirror, turning a light beam to a degree that is physically impossible for a normal lens.

I wonder... (2, Funny)

Finallyjoined!!! (1158431) | more than 4 years ago | (#32168484)

If we'll finally get real X-Ray Specs now that would be a good use....

Re:I wonder... (1)

Kraftwerk (629978) | more than 4 years ago | (#32168518)

If we'll finally get real X-Ray Specs now that would be a good use....

Towards having a germ free adolescents.

Re:I wonder... (1)

BBadhedgehog (955308) | more than 4 years ago | (#32168584)

Given the material is tunable and x-rays are just another wavelength then I don't see why it can't be used. However, as the material merely guides the light rather than lengthening its wavelength, it would cause x-rays to be concentrated onto your retina which may not be the effect you were after.

Nick

Re:I wonder... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32168924)

Given the material is tunable and x-rays are just another wavelength then I don't see why it can't be used. However, as the material merely guides the light rather than lengthening its wavelength, it would cause x-rays to be concentrated onto your retina which may not be the effect you were after.

Nick

Or you could make an x ray camera so the x rays are picked up from a ccd or simular device and projected in the visibla spectrum by an lcd

Re:I wonder... (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169098)

Even assuming you could prevent the viewer from getting a radiation overdose that doesn't solve the cancers that everybody else will get who are 'viewed'. Ionizing radiation is not a toy.

Re:I wonder... (1)

haruharaharu (443975) | more than 4 years ago | (#32178026)

. Ionizing radiation is not a toy.

Sez you.

Re:I wonder... (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169118)

They already have digital X-rays, in fact most hospitals are moving to the technology due to practical reasons. It allows them to take the X-Ray and send it to the ER before the patient gets there and greatly reduces the space required to store the huge numbers of X-rays that hospitals have to keep on file. It's mostly just smaller clinics and ones that haven't yet gotten the funds to upgrade that the older ones are being used at all.

The other issue has always been that you have to emit the X-rays to get a usable image, and you're not going to get that with metamaterials alone.

Re:I wonder... (4, Interesting)

codeButcher (223668) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169284)

My dentist uses digital x-rays: a digital pickup in your mouth, zap, picture on the computer. Allegedly uses a lower dose of rays by a factor of 10, no recurring costs for the film, and his computer system includes some image processing capability.

During a recent stay in a hospital, a radiologist I spoke to claimed that most x-rays/sonars are transferred digitally and he often works from home, analysing stuff sent to him from various hospitals.

On the other hand, the MRI I had taken was still transferred to film to be taken to the surgeon.

Re:I wonder... (1)

ortholattice (175065) | more than 4 years ago | (#32170198)

On the other hand, the MRI I had taken was still transferred to film to be taken to the surgeon.

Yes, I would prefer that the surgeon have both hands free during my operation and not have to scroll around a computer screen image.

Re:I wonder... (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 4 years ago | (#32171798)

Scrolling? Everyone knows text based MRIs like viMRI are much more user friendly.

Ctrl+Shift+L Alt+R Windows key+ACPI Sleep Button+u to scroll up

Re:I wonder... (1)

khellendros1984 (792761) | more than 4 years ago | (#32172732)

You're thinking emacsMRI. And it's called "meta", not "alt"!

Re:I wonder... (1)

codeButcher (223668) | more than 4 years ago | (#32179838)

Haha, no, the film was for the initial examination. The one they took to guide the operation [wikipedia.org] came on a CD. Works much better for 3D guidance.

Re:I wonder... (1)

MikeBabcock (65886) | more than 4 years ago | (#32183018)

Because huge high resolution screens are impossible?

Granted, film has better resolution at this time, but as to scrolling, that's what one of the half dozen other people in the room is for, just like grabbing the tools.

Re:I wonder... (1)

pclminion (145572) | more than 4 years ago | (#32172288)

My dentist uses digital x-rays: a digital pickup in your mouth, zap, picture on the computer. Allegedly uses a lower dose of rays by a factor of 10, no recurring costs for the film, and his computer system includes some image processing capability.

My dentist recently upgraded as well. Regarding the digital "pickup", I asked him how much would it cost if he broke it. Without missing a beat he said $11,000.

Re:I wonder... (1)

codeButcher (223668) | more than 4 years ago | (#32179718)

You should see the car my dentist drives :-)

Re:I wonder... (1)

treeves (963993) | more than 4 years ago | (#32185884)

Is it a "pickup"?

Re:I wonder... (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169110)

However, as the material merely guides the light rather than lengthening its wavelength, it would cause x-rays to be concentrated onto your retina which may not be the effect you were after.

Or, instead of focusing on it being "x-ray" you focus on getting the same effect with different wavelengths.

As I recall there were some Sony cameras a couple of years ago then had a "night vision" mode. Turned out that certain fabrics (ie. swimsuits) became effectively transparent when that was enabled during the day.

That's not going to let you look through solids and the like, but in term of how the old "x-ray specs" in comics were sold --- that might get you there.

That saves you from focusing actual x-rays on your eyes. :-P

Cheer

Re:I wonder... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32171156)

Cheer

Running so low on cheers that you can only give one out at a time now?

</kidding>

Re:I wonder... (2, Interesting)

codeButcher (223668) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169338)

I'm still holding out for 1-way glass/mirrors that actually WORK AS EXPECTED.

An ex-gf's father, who is an architect, told me about this super-modern house in the town where he studied that was clad with one-way mirrors. However, after dark, the inside lights would turn them quite see-through. Favourite hang-out for students was by the bedroom wall, no x-ray glasses needed.

Re:I wonder... (2, Informative)

khayman80 (824400) | more than 4 years ago | (#32175096)

I'm still holding out for 1-way glass/mirrors that actually WORK AS EXPECTED. An ex-gf's father, who is an architect, told me about this super-modern house in the town where he studied that was clad with one-way mirrors. However, after dark, the inside lights would turn them quite see-through. Favourite hang-out for students was by the bedroom wall, no x-ray glasses needed.

I said something similar to my undergrad physics advisor while working in experimental optics. He said that "true" one-way glass would probably break the laws of thermodynamics. Imagine a box filled with light, and split it in half with a pane of one-way glass. One side would become dark and the other would become twice as bright. It would have to act like Maxwell's demon, which isn't physically possible without energy input.

All "one-way mirrors" in the world are actually just windows with partial mirroring in both directions. The "one-way" part is determined entirely by which side has brighter ambient light. That's why interrogation rooms have bright lights, whereas the viewing room for cops and witnesses is usually very dimly lit.

Re:I wonder... (1)

khayman80 (824400) | more than 4 years ago | (#32179068)

Oops. I meant to say "mirrored box filled with light". Also, next time you're being interrogated in a room with a "one-way mirror", just put your eye right up against the glass and block out ambient light using your hands. You'll probably be able to see into the viewing room unless the viewing room is very dim and/or the interrogation room is very bright.

Re:I wonder... (1)

codeButcher (223668) | more than 4 years ago | (#32180620)

Very interesting - I'm not really well informed in this field.

It would thus seem that a true one way mirror would not be a passive piece of equipment, but active - taking energy to run.

Re:I wonder... (1)

sachamm (924766) | more than 4 years ago | (#32187370)

I'm still holding out for 1-way glass/mirrors that actually WORK AS EXPECTED.

It's called CCTV... ;-)

Re:I wonder... (1)

AGMW (594303) | more than 4 years ago | (#32171048)

If I had an Ass (equus asinus), I'd call it Fanny Front Bottom. Then I could slap my Ass; Fanny Front Bottom, on the Arse.

There, fixed ya sig for you.

Yeah, right. (4, Funny)

notgm (1069012) | more than 4 years ago | (#32168490)

I'll believe it when I don't see it.

Which Knight... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32168502)

Which Knight at the round table was a head shorter than the rest?

Sir Cumsized!

Wrong title... (1)

Last_Available_Usern (756093) | more than 4 years ago | (#32168874)

Please explain to me why the title of this news post is "New Metamaterial Means More Efficient Solar Cells" instead of "New Metamaterial Means Kickass Invisibility Cloak"?

Re:Wrong title... (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169012)

You must be new here.

Slashdot Editors do not create the article headline. In fact, "submitters" don't either. Except for a small fraction of submissions, most articles are generated by a specially crafter Slashdot spider, and a random word generator.

Don't believe me? Go through the front page and see the commonalities.

Thie headline was generated by the "promise of futuretech" algoritm. Basically: [adjective] [noun (future tech sounding)] [verb] [adjective] [noun (current high tech)]. Other algorithms like "Latest Apple Product Story", "Microsoft Screws Up Again", "Bash Republicans" and "Ask Slashdot a Question That Could be Answered by Google in 30 seconds" are staples of our fine Slashdot Ecosystem.

And since you seem to be new here, you may also be surprised to find that there are only 23 actual Slashdot accounts with the rest being sock puppets and computer algorithms set up to get page views up. I discussed some of these algorithms in an older post. Search for it if you have time.

Re:Wrong title... (1)

rrhal (88665) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169828)

I'm pretty sure there's a 24th account belonging to a banana slug that lives in one of the danker corners of Cowboy Niel's parent's basement. But it doesn't log in any more - lost interest when the Natalie Portman/Hot Grits meme ran its course.

Re:Wrong title... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32169464)

Please explain to me why the title of this news post is "New Metamaterial Means More Efficient Solar Cells" instead of "New Metamaterial Means Kickass Invisibility Cloak"?

Both are equally stupid, but more sexy than "New Metemeterial has Negative Index of Refraction for Visible Light".

Re:Wrong title... (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169814)

Please explain to me why the title of this news post is "New Metamaterial Means More Efficient Solar Cells" instead of "New Metamaterial Means Kickass Invisibility Cloak"?

Well, because the scientists announce it, and what it can do with a bunch of examples. The reporting media reads it, and scratches their head, and picks the only one in the list they understand, and that they think their readers will understand -- everyone knows what a solar panel.

See, when you're reporting to the lay public, you have to use words they understand. Because if you start throwing around words like super-lensing, they don't know WTF you're on about. As a result, they won't read your article.

Seriously, do you make it a point to use the most technical gibberish you can muster when communicating with normal humans? If you don't, then you've answered your own question ... if you do, chances are the people you meet think you're a wanker, and you should think about changing that. :-P

Re:Wrong title... (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#32170264)

lay public, you have to use words they understand

Your lay public are dumber than mine if they can't understand these words:

Kickass
Invisibility
Cloak

Are you sure they passed the initial "Is this people?" test? Pay extra attention to "indicator 32: Does it bark?".

Re:Wrong title... (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 4 years ago | (#32170436)

Your lay public are dumber than mine if they can't understand these words:

Kickass
Invisibility
Cloak

*laugh* Well, those three words in combination have a very high geek appeal. But, I can think of a lot of people (who have cleared the "does it bark test") who wouldn't read the article.

A larger percent of the populace knows what a solar panel is, and would be interested in reading the article. "Kickass Invisibility Cloak" has either bad movie review, or Dungeons & Dragons written all over it. The non-geek people will pretty much eschew that one. :-P

However, I invite you to try some real world testing -- go to a bar, and try using the words "kickass invisibility cloak" as part of any pickup strategy with a woman of your choice. 'Cuz you're getting into the "I put on my robe and wizard hat" territory. ;-)

Re:Wrong title... (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#32170642)

go to a bar, and try using the words "kickass invisibility cloak" as part of any pickup strategy with a woman of your choice.

Hmmm... "Hey, do you know where the cloakroom is? ... Hmm, kickass music; it reminds me of Underground Invisibility. Are you into death metal?"

P.S.: My woman of choice did make me a black cloak, took pictures of me wearing it and then photoshopped it to make it look as an invisibility cloak. True story.

Re:Wrong title... (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 4 years ago | (#32170714)

P.S.: My woman of choice did make me a black cloak, took pictures of me wearing it and then photoshopped it to make it look as an invisibility cloak. True story.

Sorry, I guess my implicit qualification of "excluding geek girls" should have been more explicit -- we were, after all, discussing the lay public.

I'm sure, however, you still get my point. :-P

Cheers

This is not news, in 1987... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32168878)

This is not news. The cloaking technology was already used by the well known alien called Predator, which visited Earth in 1987 for the first time.
Even so, the technology proved to be rather inefficient on the battle field, hence Arnold Schwarzenegger's victory. Also, it's a well known fact that this victory brought him the governor title.

Re:This is not news, in 1987... (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169240)

1987? Pff. Cloaking technology was used in 1986 when the crew of the starship Enterprise arrived from the future aboard the HMS Bounty to acquire humpback whales to appease a mysterious space dildo.

Re:This is not news, in 1987... (1)

spun (1352) | more than 4 years ago | (#32170158)

Good lord. That thing was a space dildo? I'd hate to see the giant, planet devouring vagina it went in. Wait, we did see it, didn't we? Kirk flew a starship right up it. [wikimedia.org]

Re:This is not news, in 1987... (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 4 years ago | (#32170514)

I don't think that a vag exists in space or time that James T. Kirk has not been all-up-ins. I'll bet that's what he was really doing in the Nexus before Picard got there.

Nothing to see here (0)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 4 years ago | (#32168890)

Nothing to see here.

Somebody got the idea that you could use this stuff to steer light onto solar cells. Reasonable mistake.

You have to steer a solar cell to follow the sun so it's collecting the most light.

Steering the light once it's hit the panel is mostly useless-- you're too late -- you're just not intercepting the sun.

For example if the sun is 45 degrees to the side, you're only getting cos(45) or 70.7% of the rays. Nothing you do at the panel can change that.

And there are already special reflector shapes that have the amazing property of steering light from many angles to one destination. And they're just plain metal surfaces, no nanotech required.

Re:Nothing to see here (1)

expatriot (903070) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169440)

You could, in theory, use this to steer light to cells, but is will probably be cheaper just to have bigger arrays.

The lens is three dimensional. Normally a "thick" lens cannot focus light from multiple angles to the same point. If however the refraction index is modified thoughout the lens so that the lens can focus all of the light comming in to the tall lens from the side goes down to the cell, this is equal to tilting the cell to catch the light.

The downsides are such a lens will be expensive.

Even if the cost can be brought down, the cells must be spaced far enough appart so that the shadow from one lens does not obscure the cell next to it. This wastes space and it would be simpler and equally effective just to have more cells such that there were no gaps.

Re:Nothing to see here (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169550)

This is incorrect With meta materials you can get around the issue of directionality of light. With meta materials you can create a spherical receptor several meters in diameter that takes in light from every direction and guides it on to a single solar cell the size of a postage stamp. To do the same thing with a parabolic reflector would still require guidance.

Re:Nothing to see here (1)

ZenDragon (1205104) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169898)

While you are probably quite accurate in your post, I think you are missing the point. Though only 70.7% of the light at 45 degrees may be hitting the solar cell, there is additional loss due to reflection and other factors that are inherent to the materials used. So you may only be getting 65% of the actual light at 45 degrees and even less at greater angles (I dont know the math behind this, it was just a hypothetical example). The meta materials do not eliminate the need to steer the panel they only improve the efficiency of the panel itself.

I'm just (4, Interesting)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#32168914)

Wondering about the time to market in the solar industry, because for the past 2 years I have been reading all about revolutionary new solar cell techniques, from baking your own solar cells in the oven for well under $1/Watt, to solar cells stacked in 3D that increase efficiency to 80%, to dies that help normal solar cells absorb light better, to flexible solar cells that could cover any surface, to special plastics that concentrate light onto solar cells. But you know what? Not a single solar cell on the market today includes these concepts.

IMO the "cheap, efficient solar cell" will arrive just after the flying car. And the market is certainly resisting current $4-$5/watt retail prices.

Re:I'm just (1)

blueZ3 (744446) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169156)

No, no no.

The flying car is going to be _powered_ by the cheap, efficient solar cell.

Re:I'm just (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169452)

Try to be more optimistic - we may get efficient photovoltaic around the time we get commercial fusion power. You know, 20 years in the future (always).

Re:I'm just (1)

alfredos (1694270) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169768)

Amen. In the meantime, I'll use sun to heat water. Far cheaper and more efficient.

Re:I'm just (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 4 years ago | (#32170204)

So I take it that you only learned to read 2 years ago...

Re:I'm just (1)

2obvious4u (871996) | more than 4 years ago | (#32171238)

Well the flying car is already here [moller.com] and here [terrafugia.com] . So we'll be getting cheap solar soon.

Re:I'm just (4, Insightful)

bill_kress (99356) | more than 4 years ago | (#32171314)

Solar has a SERIOUS problem that makes it completely resistant to corporate investment... It's that it is virtually impossible to monopolize the market.

What would you invest in if you were a corporation only interested in your own profits, solar panels that everyone could buy once and put on their roofs for 10 years or a nuclear reactor where you can sell electricity every day of the year at an ever increasing cost? If you picked solar, you've just been fired by the shareholders!

Although solar is picking up steams, the steps are slower. there is investment in research, research, experimentation, revision, testing, production, mass production--all of which are required to reach "affordable product" (Pulled that out of the air, but I hope you get what I mean)

Anyway, when you have someone funding that entire cycle at all stages, it moves orders of magnitude faster.

Actually a corporation might even be better off manipulating the darker/less public parts of a government to hamper solar production--not that anyone would do such a thing.

Re:I'm just (1, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#32171746)

Solar has a SERIOUS problem that makes it completely resistant to corporate investment... It's that it is virtually impossible to monopolize the market.

      I don't understand. Money can be made without monopolies. How many clothing stores are in your shopping mall? How many restaurants sell hamburgers and fries? Or Chinese food. Or fried chicken. Take your pick. The patents on acetaminophen/paracetamol expired a long, long time ago. Yet how many different companies sell this type of pain reliever? I don't buy your argument. You CAN make money without monopolies you know.

      I think the problem with solar is still one of price and efficiency, not monopoly. We have gotten used to consuming vast amounts of power in our day to day lives. Right now I am typing on a desktop computer with a 750W power supply. I have 2 monitors, at 60 W each. My hot water tank is turning on and off every hour or so, drawing another 750-1000 W. My fridge kicks on every once in a while, for another 500W. And this is just "overhead". I'm not cooking, I'm not ironing, I'm not running air conditioning. Therefore I would need around 7000W to run my house. At current prices, I am looking at at least $20k for just the solar panels. Then I need batteries, because solar only works during the day. Then I need to install and maintain the system.

      I really would love to do it. I have a roof, so surface area shouldn't be too much trouble. But price is a HUGE barrier to entry. Yes it pays for itself over time, but it's a steep up front cost. The price needs to come down for people to jump into solar, but people won't jump into solar until the price comes down. That's the "catch-22" that solar finds itself in.

Re:I'm just (1)

haruharaharu (443975) | more than 4 years ago | (#32178126)

Your desktop computer probably tops out at 200W, monitors included. The hot water heater isn't a continuous drain, and neither is the fridge. Sure, it could be better, but you have to look at the overall usage - I use between 15-70KWh/day (electric heat and crappy windows, I think), which works out to about 600-3000W continuous usage. Even with this large amount of consumption, I pay at most $5/day.

With your solar installation, you can switch to a gas-powered heater and probably only budget for 20 amps or do grid-tie, depending on your location. If you did a grid tie system and got about 2kW capacity, that's $6k + what, $2k for install, other equipment? It won't solve all your problems, but it'd probably pay for itself in under 10 years.

Re:I'm just (1)

BraksDad (963908) | more than 4 years ago | (#32178786)

I used to work for an energy conglomerate that was investing heavily in solar. The way it works is that smaller compnies develop and refine until the big ones choose the better ones, buy them and dump money into them. This model has proven successful time and time again. look at the cost of an automobile against average household income over the years. Not only can the average household aford more and better, those cars are required to meet more and stricter requirements. Thr 1940's beetle would get you from pt A to pt B just fine. I would bet the farm that the 1952 Beetle would be much cheeper to produce today than the 2006 model.

Already down to $2 or even $1/watt. (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 4 years ago | (#32173534)

IMO the "cheap, efficient solar cell" will arrive just after the flying car. And the market is certainly resisting current $4-$5/watt retail prices.

What market are you in? Prices have been falling for a while. (Even your quoted numbers are significantly below the $10+ of a few years back, too.)

If you're willing to accept slight cosmetic defects you can currently get UL-approved panels in quantity for just under $2 or fine working panels without UL approval markings for about $1 (for projects where you don't need fire insurance or code approval).

That's bringing home-sized systems close to unsubsidized price breakeven with grid power for sunny suburban sites. Unlike the flying car, it's just the price-performance of panels, batteries, and inverter/control electronics that has been limiting mass solar power deployment. At prices up to those of recent times it is only a win where the cost of running grid power is high. That means new construction at remote sites without existing grid power, or small stuff like emergency phones, road signs, and lawn lights.

The constant announcement of research breakthroughs (on both panels and batteries) shows how much R&D money is being spent on improving the technology. This is good. Most of these things won't end up making it to market. They'll be too expensive or too fragile for commercialization, or replaced by something better. But, as with computers, semiconductors, and Moore's Law, the industry has reached the takeoff point. Some of the flood of innovations will combine to form a reasonably steady improvement ramp.

Computers went from buildings full of boxes and cabling managed by lab-coated initiates, through half-rack boxes built into lab equipment, through progressively smaller personal workstations, through automobile engine control, to replacing a handfull of switches and motors in everything from ovens and clothes washers to light timers. And this happened over the lifetime of the baby boom generation, not in a sudden event.

There was a stage where personal computers were only the hands of a few hobbyists, followed soon by a stage where it gradually became a common home office device or rich kid's toy before becoming ubiquitous. That's about where solar power is now.

And that's about the transition I expect it to take, in a similar time scale, if it's not eclipsed by something even better (like if polywell, focus, or some other fusion system works out and grid power prices drop drastically as a result).

Ten, maybe twenty years out of date above (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 4 years ago | (#32179298)

The "cheap, efficient solar cell" arrived about the time pocket calculators came with them.
We're now looking at extra icing on the cake that allows a wider range of uses.

more of this? (0)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 4 years ago | (#32168930)

There are an infinite number of ways to generate clean energy. The number of ways which can do so economically, however, is something like (infinity - very few).

There are an infinite number of ways to cure cancer. The number of ways which can do so without killing the patient, however, is something like (infinity - very few).

There are an infinite number of ways to store data. The number of ways which can do so usefully, however, is something like (infinity - very few).

Slashdot needs an "impractical tech idea" category for corralling all the all the grad students working on generating papers about their useless-but-interesting areas of research.

Re:more of this? (2, Insightful)

s122604 (1018036) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169018)

And in the late 1800s it was proposed that we would soon have to shut down the patent office, because everything would soon be invented.

Somehow, I think the issuer of such a proclamation would feel right at home on slashdot

Yes, virtually all of these ideas, prototypes, theories, etc.. won't pan out. But if one idea in a million pans out, that one idea can still end up changing the world in ways unimagined.

So yah, keep up the scoffing cynicism, odds are you will be right 99.99% of the time.

I'd rather think/dream/imagine

Re:more of this? (1)

onepoint (301486) | more than 4 years ago | (#32170286)

>>And in the late 1800s it was proposed that we would soon have to shut down the patent office, because everything would soon be invented.

sometimes I keep thinking that we have invented everything, then I come to slashdot to find something new and great that has been invented or shoot over to ted ( ted.org ) to gather more insight on what little I know

Re:more of this? (1)

Green Salad (705185) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169060)

huh? I don't know how to read "(infinity - very few)." Is that (infinity minus very few?) which I think evaluates to "infinity" ...or did you mean something else?

Re:more of this? (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 4 years ago | (#32173654)

Agree with the bulk of your post but ...

Slashdot needs an "impractical tech idea" category for corralling all the all the grad students working on generating papers about their useless-but-interesting areas of research.

The problem with such a category is how hard it is to correctly predict WHICH ideas are impractical and which are the next world-changer. The market decides that. If your picks are right significantly more often than a random number generator you could use your leet skillz and invest your lunch money to become very very rich.

Congratulations, Mr Starke! (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169036)

"You've created a new element."

"Thanks, JARVIS. Now, where the hell is it?"

Re:Congratulations, Mr Starke! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32169290)

I believe its Stark.

Burying the lede (4, Informative)

jfengel (409917) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169064)

As usual with "SOLAR CELLS HERE TOMORROW!" stories, the actual important news in the story is buried around paragraph six.

This is not the first time such a material has been developed, but it is the first one that can handle light of any polarity, from any angle. It also works in the blue part of the visible spectrum, making it the first NIM to operate at visible frequencies.

Ah, thank you. As usual, a nice, modestly useful development of moderate interest to those who study materials engineering, and of essentially zero interest to anybody else. (Well, except for us science nerds, who shouldn't have to be sold the fluff, but it's what we get anyway.)

But since press releases attract more attention than journal articles, at least when they promise free power, you put FREE SOLAR ENERGY at the top and actual scientific research gets a paragraph somewhere in the middle.

Re:Burying the lede (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169164)

To be fair if they put that stuff behind the actual research then nobody would read it. Serious researchers would stop at the end of the research and most other people would give up before even getting to it.

Re:Burying the lede (1)

jfengel (409917) | more than 4 years ago | (#32173526)

This is true, and I've learned to expect no better from the popular press, which is the target of this press release. (And what we're linked to is a press release, not a journal article.)

I'd like to think better of Slashdot, but that's not really the case.

If one actually wants to read science news, I recommend Science News, which does precisely what you suggest: the research in the headline, the speculative applications buried at the end. (And I think they expect their readers always take that with a grain of salt.)

Re:Burying the lede (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32169762)

"of moderate interest to those who study materials engineering, and of essentially zero interest to anybody else."
What about making a perfect lens for telescopes/cameras? What about making optical filters for fiber optic lines?
I don't believe those are just for the materials engineering. There are plenty of applications.

Re:Burying the lede (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169956)

I used to feel somewhat guilty that I'm blocking all ads here while posting whole lotta nonsense. But it turns out, it's a fair deal - I'm getting pretty much what I am paying for.

Free solar.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32171404)

is as efficient as the free "limitless" nuclear power concepts of the 1950's.

"could have" = we don't know, but give us money (2, Interesting)

gweihir (88907) | more than 4 years ago | (#32169296)

I am sick and tired of these "could have tremendous impact bla bla bla" statements. Typically nothing comes out of them in the short term and only tiny improvements to existing solutions in the longer term. Marketing speech sucks and it is time we call it "commercial lies" or maybe with Neil Stephenson "commercial bullshit".

Re:"could have" = we don't know, but give us money (1)

marnues (906739) | more than 4 years ago | (#32174920)

Simple fix. Skip them! Times 1 scientific achievement has resulted in instant market application? 0. Get over it and leave it those of us that it does "impact tremendously" alone.

Super slow light (1)

Twinbee (767046) | more than 4 years ago | (#32170020)

Is it theoretically possible to slow down light enough so that it takes a day, month or even a year or two to arrive at the other end of a material? This way you can have a time machine from the past, or use free lighting from the daytime, but at night.

Re:Super slow light (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32170498)

Basically, no.

Re:Super slow light (1)

MarkCollette (459340) | more than 4 years ago | (#32172108)

Or how about a light flywheel, where light would come in, and enter into a loop, with the photons circling and circling, until you let them out. That way you could collect ambient light for later, and even accumulate it, for flashes.

Re:Super slow light (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 4 years ago | (#32173790)

Is it theoretically possible to slow down light enough so that it takes a day, month or even a year or two to arrive at the other end of a material?

Maybe.

I recall seeing research indicating that you can and some researchers have. (Down to 38 MPH in 1999, for instance.) But it isn't practical for significant-scale energy storage or expected to become so any time soon.

No Bob Shaw style "slow glass" this week.

Re:Super slow light (1)

Twinbee (767046) | more than 4 years ago | (#32174338)

Interesting. If it could be slowed down to say, 0.0001 mph or less, there could be some really useful apps. Interesting, as it would be a way of storing energy inside an object. What a strange kind of battery that would be.

Re:Super slow light (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 4 years ago | (#32174964)

really useful apps

Most likely it'd be used in artistic installations first, eg a hallway that viewed from the outside, shows you the people who walked through a few minutes ago. Perhaps varying the thickness of the material so that people look to be warping around.

Re:Super slow light (1)

brantondaveperson (1023687) | more than 4 years ago | (#32175952)

I did this once, sort of. Video camera into a delay loop to a monitor. Is very interesting watching people watch themselves as they were thirty seconds ago. Quite unlike looking in a mirror.

Re:Super slow light (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 4 years ago | (#32185008)

Video camera into a delay loop to a monitor. ... Quite unlike looking in a mirror.

Doubly so because people's faces are usually slightly asymmetrical and they're used to seeing them reversed in a mirror. So the image looks subtly wrong to them when it's not swapped left-right.

Portrait photographers know about that and some of them reverse the print if the subject is the customer, so it looks right to him/her and subtly wrong to everybody else. B-)

Re:Super slow light (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32175972)

One thing I've always wondered... if you buy a 5 year thick pane of slow glass, how do you stop some punk kid from throwing a rock through your window, and erasing the entire city with a mushroom cloud as chain reactions of ~34 kiloton explosions pop from every shattered window?

Re:Super slow light (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 4 years ago | (#32185132)

Shaw dealt with that in his stories, if I recall them correctly:

Shock randomized the stored light's position and time history, causing the window (or its fragments) to have a constant diffuse glow for its propagation time.

At one point a lab, working on a way to fast-forward, came up with a way to speed the light up on a (few days?) pane into a very quick release. When the effect took hold the flash - not the main one but little bits of it delay-repeated by other pieces of glass in the lab - blinded an interloper who had entered after the main release.

(I think this was as close as he came - in the stories - to addressing the issue of the amount of energy stored and the effects of its sudden release.)

negative index means negative speed of light? (1)

rcamans (252182) | more than 4 years ago | (#32170230)

n = c/v. For air, n = 1.000277, so light is slightly slowed down by air. All natural materials slow down light. For diamond, n = 2.417. This helps make diamonds interesting and sparkly. If n 0, then v 0. what does this mean? Is the light traveling backward? or back in time? I am seriously confused. Actually, this does mean that the material has backwards phase propagation. This particular material has n = -2. Ordinarily the group velocity is similar to the phase velocity. But they did not give us enough info in the public article to figure out exactly what's up

Re:negative index means negative speed of light? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32170314)

No moron, it doesn't.

Re:negative index means negative speed of light? (3, Interesting)

nickersonm (1646933) | more than 4 years ago | (#32171026)

Not quite. The v in n=c/v is actually the phase speed [wikipedia.org] of the light wave, which is not necessarily the speed at which the pulse of light propagates. The Wikipedia article on negative-index materials has a good animation showing this [wikipedia.org] : the bright bars are the phase peaks, while the envelope is the light pulse. The entire article is pretty good as an overview, although it doesn't go into much mathematical detail.

I keep waiting... (1)

feepness (543479) | more than 4 years ago | (#32171188)

...to throw the switch (no pun intended) on solar power for my house but every three months I hear of some new material that's supposed to make them cheaper and more efficient.

Sigh.

Re:I keep waiting... (1)

DanJ_UK (980165) | more than 4 years ago | (#32180412)

Even normal people [not geeks] know as soon as you buy a piece of technology it's out-of-date.

Solar Cells are the "gates" of the 21st century (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32171874)

For decades, we have seen stories about how some new technology will revolutionize the computing. Be it optical, quantum, nano, bio, or whatever, some scientist always seems to think that if he can somehow implement a NAND gate, no matter how contrived, then it will lead to a new era in computing technology.

Solar cells are the new gates.

This sounds more like a patent advertisement. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32171960)

All of the announcements of new tech all just seem to be like patent adverts. I think these people are just trying to shop around patents so they can get cash for em.

Announcing a new tech that could possibly be used somewhere sucks. Announcing a new product using so and so tech would be more useful.

Link and comments (1)

smaddox (928261) | more than 4 years ago | (#32172744)

Here is a link to the actual journal article. [nature.com]

I would like to point out that the guy promoting the use of negative index materials (NIMs) in solar cells is being extremely optimistic. The Kramers-Kronig dispersion relations require any and all passive NIMs to be inherently lossy at the wavelength of interest. In addition, the wider your try to make the bandwidth, the more loss will incur.

Don't get me wrong, metamaterials are an extremely interesting field of research, but to promote their use for energy harvesting is ridiculous. They are much more interesting for beating the diffraction limit.

...Slow Glass? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32172766)

... Look into Bob Shaw "Other Days, Other Eyes" (sci-fi, 1972) - wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Shaw

There was a sequel by Stephen Baxter/Arthur C. Clarke "The Light of Other Days" (which was the original title of the short
story "Other Days, Other Eyes" was based on) .. I found the Baxter/Clarke book to be more forgettable apparently.

So Much Change, and Yet Everything's the Same (1)

Plekto (1018050) | more than 4 years ago | (#32176208)

It must be at least once a month now that we hear about some advance in solar technology. And yet there are zero of these new cheap and highly efficient options actually in production at the moment.

Progress in a lab is one thing. We need it in the marketplace for it to really have any impact.

Screw solar cells (1)

scdeimos (632778) | more than 4 years ago | (#32176552)

Who cares about what possible (unlikely) improvement this would be solar cells. How about camera optics?

In particular, this NIM would be useful for correcting chromatic aberration [wikipedia.org] , which I currently have to correct for planetary imaging in software (which is a bit of a hit-and-miss affair, unfortunately).

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