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Self-Assembling Photovoltaic Tech From MIT

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the bright-ideas dept.

Biotech 128

telomerewhythere writes "Michael Strano and his team at MIT have made a self-assembling and indefinitely repairable photovoltaic cell based on the principle found in chloroplasts inside plant cells. 'The system Strano's team produced is made up of seven different compounds, including the carbon nanotubes, the phospholipids, and the proteins that make up the reaction centers, which under the right conditions spontaneously assemble themselves into a light-harvesting structure that produces an electric current. Strano says he believes this sets a record for the complexity of a self-assembling system. When a surfactant is added to the mix, the seven components all come apart and form a soupy solution. Then, when the researchers removed the surfactant, the compounds spontaneously assembled once again into a perfectly formed, rejuvenated photocell.'"

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128 comments

Selfassembling first post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33496238)

first post!

Well, if science has taught us anything... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33496274)

Mmmmhmmm... Nanolathe, here we come!

You Know The Drill (1)

sycodon (149926) | more than 3 years ago | (#33498018)

Call me when I can pick it up at Home Depot.

This is incredible news (2, Interesting)

Khyber (864651) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496280)

Now all we need is to mimic Chlorophyll F and start capturing everything from beginning IR (720nm) on down. I'd love to see a solar cell that can respond to all of the wavelengths currently covered by terrestrial and marine plant life.

Re:This is incredible news (2, Interesting)

Acetylane_Rain (1894120) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496356)

The technology's best application is probably in outer space, where we don't have to worry about wavelengths (since there's so much more sun out there). I can even envision its application as a possibly more compact plant substitute for the life support system of a long-duration space flight, say, to Mars.

Re:This is incredible news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33501634)

What? No. The Sun emits mostly along a certain range of wavelengths. You will obviously get better performance in space with panels that like those wavelengths than with panels that only work with a narrower range or work best in a range that the Sun doesn't output as much of.

Re:This is incredible news (3, Interesting)

Bayoudegradeable (1003768) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496502)

I hate to be a crazy fanboi, but is this a "Holy shit" news moment?? I have been telling my middle school geography students for years that plants can harness solar power cheaply and easily. Are plants smarter than us? Maybe we are turning a corner with this one. Watch out plants, we are on to you! And we just might be on to the greatest break in energy production known to mankind. Once we harness the power of the sun we step up a rung on the advanced civilization ladder. Hooray for bad ass MIT scientists!!

Re:This is incredible news (2, Informative)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496644)

Are they smarter then us. No but many are more evolved then us. Plants have been around evolving on land much longer then the first bug left the oceans. They are quite adapted to their environment. Now humans and mammals are not so evolved but our evolutionary path took a different way where a more organized central nervice system took presendance over energy gathering.

Re:This is incredible news (4, Informative)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496686)

No but many are more evolved then us. Plants have been around evolving on land much longer then the first bug left the oceans. They are quite adapted to their environment. Now humans and mammals are not so evolved but our evolutionary path took a different way where a more organized central nervice system took presendance over energy gathering.

That's not quite the best description of evolution. It isn't a race to some endpoint, there really isn't much that can be classified as 'less evolved or more evolved' unless you slice the requirements so thin that only one organism could survive based on such criteria and therefore make the whole concept of evolution meaningless. Let's say a landslide washes a very niche species of plant into the ocean where the saline content promptly kills the entire species. Does that make a salmon more evolved since it didn't die?

And for that matter, unless we assume some multiple genesis theory for life on Earth, every species today has been subject to evolutionary forces for the exact length of time as any other species.

Re:This is incredible news (2, Insightful)

CubicleView (910143) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496946)

I thought you could pick a common starting point for related species or maybe a period of time for unrelated species and ask how different is this species today compaired to what it was then (at least hypothetically if it's impossible to do so pratically). The one with the greatest genetic drift would be considered to have evolved more.

Re:This is incredible news (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33496996)

The one with the greatest genetic drift would be considered to have evolved more.

Whether that's good or bad for it is left up to contention. If a creature is perfectly built for a location, then it will eventually become the least evolved creature.

But still the best!

Re:This is incredible news (1)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 3 years ago | (#33498092)

Whether that's good or bad for it is left up to contention. If a creature is perfectly built for a location, then it will eventually become the least evolved creature.

But still the best!

It is a shame that you posted as an AC, because that is a fairly insightful post.

People seem to confuse evolution with something that rewards the 'peaks' with survival, yet what it actually does is reward the most efficient with respect to that system. Any trends with regard to evolution, are those that progress toward efficiencies.

Ironically, it also means that some of the 'best' species for a system tend to be vulnerable to changes in that system. In evolving towards being the most efficient for a given system, like a finely tuned machine, disturbances will quickly throw the balance off. This is mostly true with physically isolated systems.

Consider the islands of Hawaii and Madagascar. Each island developed highly specialized species of birds. Yet the introduction of an instability (in the form of snakes) caused the balance of Madagascar's system to shift suddenly and its specialized bird population dwindled rapidly, unable to cope with the change in the system. Hawaii, being slightly more isolated, provides an interesting control which allows us to compare the effects of the shift in balance.

Throw a handful of grit into the axel of a Conestoga wagon, and wear will increase, but it will likely continue to work with little impact. Toss that same handful of grit into the axel of one of the contenders to break the land-speed records and the impact will be much more severe.

Re:This is incredible news (3, Interesting)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 3 years ago | (#33497198)

The one with the greatest genetic drift would be considered to have evolved more.

One of the issues with this is that we do not know the 'in between'. It is possible that a species may have evolved to a middle phase, but then evolved back to something which appears to be similar to the original.

Of course such a claim requires evidence, and you can find instances of this in species today. Consider chickens. There is a gene, which if activated, will cause the chicken to grow teeth, much like we expect their distant ancestors to have had. But even further back, their ancestor's ancestors may not have had teeth at all.

Of course, the distant ancestor's ancestors genetic code likely did not have the code for teeth in the first place, and you could look at that as evidence for your 'more evolved' Yet it is possible that some genes were evolved and discarded in a manner so that there is no trace that they were there in the first place. Color vision in mammals is another trait that is suspected to have been evolved, discarded, and lately reintroduced.

Yet ignoring all that, if we WERE to base the concept of 'more evolved' on genetic drift from the source, then the concept that plants are 'more evolved' seems to be false given that plants tend to be much more genetically 'stable' than animals. We find very similar relatives to today's plants in the fossilized remains, yet if we were to compare todays animals with those found before the dinosaurs, one could only conclude that 'more' evolution (in the form of genetic drift) occured in animals than plants.

That said, I still stand by my original statement that when it comes to evolution, it is nearly pointless to try and classify levels or extent of evolution as if it were some sort of race.

Re:This is incredible news (1)

radarsat1 (786772) | more than 3 years ago | (#33497620)

Consider chickens. There is a gene, which if activated, will cause the chicken to grow teeth

+5 Scary?

Compare three species, not two (1)

gilleain (1310105) | more than 3 years ago | (#33497682)

Genetic analysis is not my area (I prefer structure to sequence) but I understood from a book called "Deep Time" on cladistics that it is really only informative to compare THREE species at a time, not two.

So, saying "chimps are similar to humans" is less meaningful than "chimps are more similar to humans than lemurs". All life forms on earth share some points of similarity.

Hmmm. Maybe that wasn't relevant to the question of : "Is X more evolved than Y?" but I guess I was thinking of the last common ancestor as being the third party in the comparison. That is : "Is X more evolved compared to LCA(X,Y) than Y?".

Re:This is incredible news (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 3 years ago | (#33500214)

Doesn't something having gone through more evolution mean that it the process didn't "get it right" the first time? As I recall certain groups of animals - sharks, turtles, alligators - are essentially unchanged for millions of years.

That does sort of boggle the mind, though, how something could essentially just remain the same. The most common examples are often carnivorous predators, too.

Re:This is incredible news (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33497748)

Also, it seems to me that insects would not have evolved in the ocean any more than we did. They have a symbiotic relationship with land plants.

If I'm wrong, would an entomologist or someone studying evolution of flora and fauna please set me straight?

Re:This is incredible news (1)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | more than 3 years ago | (#33498182)

Whether the evolution of the global ecosystem and each of its parts is in some grand sense moving forward or just changing a lot is not a scientifically decidable question, at least for the foreseeable future. The structure of the question depends on faith: either faith in Gaea or some other Supreme Being, or an equally strong faith that no such being exists. As a neopagan of the witchy type, I personally believe that the most evolved way to handle these kinds of issues is to learn to dance smoothly and quickly between the two different world views. But i recognize that the idea of deliberately Crafting one's life is not acceptable to a lot of people. For one thing, it takes a great deal of time and effort that will go unrewarded by anyone else: others don't even see what you are doing.

But putting all that aside, when looking at smaller segments of the ecosystem and more specific goal states, then you can certainly use a goal-oriented model to describe the realities of evolution. This is most clear when considering convergence, where separate species have evolved similar traits because those traits are uniquely suited to meeting a common need. So porpoises and sharks have converged on a similar body shape, and the wings of bats, flying fish, and birds have generally similar aerodynamic properties.

In these distinct areas, it does make sense to talk as if there was a competition between species. The prize of being most evolved in certain specific categories is a secure ecological niche.

Of course you don't want to get locked into that kind of model building, since then you end up doing silly things like regarding the salmon as being just a very good fast swimming predator fish. That would make it too easy to lose sight of Salmon's partnership with Bear and Eagle to fertilize the otherwise barren heights of the Pacific Northwest with then nutrients from the ocean that make the region's forests so richly verdant. But to even talk about that role of Salmon requires dancing away from the scientific mind set and into the totemic mind set for at least a moment. Persons with less evolved minds will find that impossible.

Which isn't to say that such persons are less intellectual or anything like that. They may well be very clever, and could easily become major players in businsess or technology. They simply have less evolved minds.

Re:This is incredible news (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 3 years ago | (#33498500)

The structure of the question depends on faith: either faith in Gaea or some other Supreme Being, or an equally strong faith that no such being exists.

It's not a matter of faith, it's a matter of evidence. Applying Occcam's Razor says that the process of evolution doesn't need such a being, and there is no evidence for Gaea. There is always room for further evidence, however.

As a neopagan of the witchy type, I personally believe that the most evolved way to handle these kinds of issues is to learn to dance smoothly and quickly between the two different world views. But i recognize that the idea of deliberately Crafting one's life is not acceptable to a lot of people. For one thing, it takes a great deal of time and effort that will go unrewarded by anyone else: others don't even see what you are doing.

This is where evidence comes into play. Do you even see what you are doing? Are you just deluding yourself?

That would make it too easy to lose sight of Salmon's partnership with Bear and Eagle to fertilize the otherwise barren heights of the Pacific Northwest with then nutrients from the ocean that make the region's forests so richly verdant.

And do you want to talk about whatever partnerships produce deserts or ice ages?

Re:This is incredible news (1)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | more than 3 years ago | (#33498948)

It's not a matter of faith, it's a matter of evidence. Applying Occcam's Razor says that the process of evolution doesn't need such a being, and there is no evidence for Gaea. There is always room for further evidence, however.

I find your faith in Occam's Razor... amusing.

Within the limitations of the world view you espouse, your argument is irrefutable. It is just that you are proselytizing in a very public forum for a rather limited world view, and thus possibly affecting an unknown number of others who have yet to think these issues through. I regard that as unfair to those in the audience who have the mental capabilities to learn to dance between world views without shackling themselves to any particular one. So I argue with you in this public place.

If you were to present the same argument at a gathering of the College Of Neurosurgeons Of The Americas, I would probably not speak up. You would pretty much be preaching to the choir, and those few surgeons in attendance who were also comfortable with other modes of thought would recognize what you were doing and not be swayed by your words.

But there are a number of Slashdot readers who have access to other modes of approaching reality (either by being raised Hindu, Zen, Buddhist, Apache, Sioux, British Traditional Witchcraft, Stregheria, Voudon, etc, or by exposure to shamanic, mystic, gnostic or other systems of modeling reality. Your insistence that the only true model of the world is the scientific model could cause some these persons to turn their backs on an enriching source of knowledge, and that would be like poisoning another person's well. Don't do that.

And do you want to talk about whatever partnerships produce deserts or ice ages?

What are these partnerships of which you speak? Man and Rabbit in Australia? Man does seem uniquely positioned to work to enforce or destroy ecosystems. It seems to me that a certain amount of responsibility should go along with that power. And since science is deliberately agnostic about this kind of responsibility, we do need other modes of modeling the world to guide the application of our technologies.

Re:This is incredible news (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 3 years ago | (#33499304)

I regard that as unfair

I don't see how it is any more unfair than your proselytizing, though I'm not advocating a religion. You're the one talking about witchcraft and animism or totemism or whatever the hell it is you believe in.

Your insistence that the only true model of the world is the scientific model could cause some these persons to turn their backs on an enriching source of knowledge, and that would be like poisoning another person's well. Don't do that.

Your insistence that people should believe in fantasies is dangerous. I won't insist you stop doing that, as I believe in freedom of speech. I would only ask others to think critically and skeptically, and know that lots of bullshit has been sluiced away by doing so.

What are these partnerships of which you speak?

I mean, when you see a thriving ecosystem, you speak of a "partnership", as if directed by some higher form to achieve this ecosystem. Yet deserts arise without man. Ecosystems have been created and destroyed throughout the Earth's history.

And since science is deliberately agnostic about this kind of responsibility, we do need other modes of modeling the world to guide the application of our technologies.

Appealing to mysticism doesn't sound like a good one. Science is a valid tool to give us insight into this problem. If there is no mystic force or supreme being to appeal to, we can argue over more applicable values. In short, secular humanism.

Re:This is incredible news (1)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | more than 3 years ago | (#33500730)

I don't see how it is any more unfair than your proselytizing, though I'm not advocating a religion.

It was your proselytizing for the dogma of science as you see it that provoked my response. I do not volunteer my beliefs, let alone assert them as something others should adopt; I do not proselytize. As you point out with some evident frustration later in your post, I do not even say what my beliefs are. I sometimes respond to your type of proselytizing when it occurs in certain public forums, as I have done here. I rather believe that Galileo would respond in the same fashion were he to see your posts, since his biographies suggest that he really hated it when anyone tried to insinuate their dogma into a discussion in such a way that others would accept it without critically assessing it.

You are advocating a religion. You are simply using what Orwell called doublethink to hide that from yourself.

Here's a couple of books worth reading and thinking about for a couple of decades:

  • Fritjof Capra, __The tao of physics__, now in its 4th edition and 35 years of continuous printing, translated into over 20 languages. If author of parent post is going to continue his attempts to convert others to his way of thinking, he really needs to read this book to at least get some appreciation of the alternatives.
  • Gary Zukav, __The dancing wu li masters__, in print for 30+ years. Covers much of the same ground as Capra, but where Capra is a physicist working through a reconciliation of physics (especially quantum mechanics) with his heritage world view, Zukav is a journalist and perhaps more accessible to lay readers because of that viewpoint.

BTW, I am quite comfortable with secular humanism, I dance to its assumptions quite frequently. One of its core tenets is that each individual has the right (and for some S H believers, the obligation) to examine every belief with every tool they can bring to bear before accepting it. You do not seem to be doing that yourself. Certainly your words are an attempt to get others to accept as true certain assumptions that you have invested your ego in.

It is probably worthwhile to mention in passing that mysticism has a fairly precise technical definition that can be described as the recognition that the human capacity to comprehend the Universe is limited, and there are unknowable facets that are outside our scope. This is roughly mirrored with the Copenhagen convention of physics, which can be loosely described as "There are things we know; there are things we don't know; and there are almost certainly things we can never know. So our understanding of reality is currently quite limited and very likely will always be wrong to some degree. But we can build models, and those are not only fun but they can lead to some interesting technologies."

Re:This is incredible news (1)

makomk (752139) | more than 3 years ago | (#33502520)

Wow - that manages to both misunderstand quantum mechanics and mysticism. There's nothing mystical about quantum mechanics - it defines what we can and cannot measure in an incredibly precise, rigorous and above all completely testable mathematical fashion.

Re:This is incredible news (1)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | more than 3 years ago | (#33504742)

QM rigorously defines a pinhole through which those who have confined their thinking to the box of the empirical method must recognize that there is Mystery: that which cannot under any circumstances be known. Quantum foam shows that when you extend the QM model beyond simple particle interactions you find that this Mystery is involved at the margins of every little thing, and thus implicated in every interaction between different things: there is a little bit of unknowable in everything that happens. If you want to get away from physics for a moment, in mathematics there is the contemplation of pi and the impossibility of comprehending why it should be as it is, making everything based on circles or cycles forever imprecise. And in astronomy there is the other side of the event horizon: clearly something is going on there, but just as clearly we can never get any information about what it is.

But back to QM. It demonstrates that there is something about the universe that lies outside of the area that the methods of science can address. It does not put a limit on how large that something is-- and rationally there is no way that a limit can be placed on what is unknown. It seems that those who would limit their thinking to just the scientific model are doing themselves a disservice: the normal human mind is quite capable of handling concepts that lie outside of science, if the owner of that mind is willing to do the study needed to learn to handle such concepts appropriately. There was a time when I would have added here that zennist study is one good way of doing this. But that was Zen; this is Tao.

I am not saying that those who choose to limit themselves to thinking only within the science box should do anything else. Do as you will with your life, so long as you harm none in the doing.

But don't insinuate your dogma into public discussions in a way that might cause others to accept it without critically appraising it. That does harm the discourse, and is doubleplus ungood, bad karma, dysphoric, etc etc. Don't proselytize your faith in science.

And consider: Many active researchers who are intimately involved in extending our scientific models regard these as very incomplete and terribly insufficient to base their lives upon. Some study sacred texts, others work in groups to grapple with the universal issues, I have encountered some who use shamanic techniques. So I am far from alone in recognizing that science works well in its corner of the playground where it builds its models, but that there is also so much more to life than the scientific model.

Re:This is incredible news (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 3 years ago | (#33504508)

It was your proselytizing for the dogma of science as you see it that provoked my response. I do not volunteer my beliefs, let alone assert them as something others should adopt; I do not proselytize.

The nice thing about debating on Slashdot is that the posts are archived and uneditable. You are the one who provoked my response. You did indeed volunteer your beliefs. "As a neopagan of the witchy type", "Crafting one's life", "to even talk about that role of Salmon requires dancing away from the scientific mind set and into the totemic mind set".

As you point out with some evident frustration later in your post, I do not even say what my beliefs are.

Well you did, as I showed. My "evident frustration" was an expression of scorn for the exact details about the mumbo-jumbo you were espousing.

I rather believe that Galileo would respond in the same fashion were he to see your posts, since his biographies suggest that he really hated it when anyone tried to insinuate their dogma into a discussion in such a way that others would accept it without critically assessing it.

You are the one arguing against critical assessment. You go so far as to call it "religion" and "faith". You are the one who brings up religion, yet claim not to proselytize. Yet you accuse me of an Orwellian mindset?

One of its core tenets is that each individual has the right (and for some S H believers, the obligation) to examine every belief with every tool they can bring to bear before accepting it.

It's most important core tenant is that supernatural and unverifiable beliefs have already been examined and rejected as a class of tools. And before you scream "faith" again, this is an evidence based belief, the kind of evidence that has brought us away from Gods hurling lightning bolts to knowledge of weather, biology, and the cosmos. It has brought us all kinds of technology. We have advanced so far by discarding alternative, supernatural explanations.

It is probably worthwhile to mention in passing that mysticism has a fairly precise technical definition that can be described as the recognition that the human capacity to comprehend the Universe is limited

Yet mysticism says that you can gain knowledge through spiritual means, as you yourself have been advocating. Trying to tie that in to quantum physics doesn't follow.

"The Tao of Physics was completed in December 1974, and the implications of the November Revolution one month earlier that led to the dramatic confirmations of the standard-model quantum field theory clearly had not sunk in for Capra (like many others at that time). What is harder to understand is that the book has now gone through several editions, and in each of them Capra has left intact the now out-of-date physics, including new forewords and afterwords that with a straight face deny what has happened. The foreword to the second edition of 1983 claims, "It has been very gratifying for me that none of these recent developments has invalidated anything I wrote seven years ago. In fact, most of them were anticipated in the original edition," a statement far from any relation to the reality that in 1983 the standard model was nearly universally accepted in the physics community, and the bootstrap theory was a dead idea ... Even now, Capra's book, with its nutty denials of what has happened in particle theory, can be found selling well at every major bookstore. It has been joined by some other books on the same topic, most notably Gary Zukav's The Dancing Wu-Li Masters. The bootstrap philosophy, despite its complete failure as a physical theory, lives on as part of an embarrassing New Age cult, with its followers refusing to acknowledge what has happened." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tao_of_Physics#Acclaim_and_criticism [wikipedia.org]

Re:This is incredible news (1)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | more than 3 years ago | (#33504872)

You confuse my beliefs, which I have not expressed, with some very broad descriptions of general belief systems that I mentioned solely as background. You then defend yourself against my correction of this by admitting that you are responding emotionally, with "an expression of scorn", rather than rationally.

I could go on, but that is sufficient reason to conclude that there is no further rational discussion possible. Have a good day.

Re:This is incredible news (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 3 years ago | (#33502294)

I find your faith in Occam's Razor... amusing.

a fool and his knowledge are easily parted.

Re:This is incredible news (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 3 years ago | (#33502346)

I find your faith in Occam's Razor... amusing.

b.t.w. it's the second law of thermodynamics.

Re:This is incredible news (1)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | more than 3 years ago | (#33504428)

About the second law of thermodynamics being the same as Occam's razor: no, I don't think so. At least not in the known universe.

Of course the existence of this conversation demonstrates that the laws of thermodynamics are only applicable within the limits of physics model that frames them, and do not apply to reality itself. For if it were otherwise, there would be no life nor any other self-organizing systems. Think of this as one of the trivial applications of the anthropomorphic principle.

Physics works with models of reality. Not with reality itself. Don't confuse the map with the territory.

Re:This is incredible news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33504420)

I am not grandparent.

The only true model of the world is the world.

The only useful model of the world for the purposes of understanding it, how it works, and what will happen in the future IS the scientific model.

When your "witchy" worldview starts making some verifiable and falsifiable predictions that science cannot I'll be the first in line to listen...but I'm a scientist and a skeptic and thus I'm not about to hold my breath waiting for that day to come, as past performance strongly suggests it never will.

Re:This is incredible news (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 3 years ago | (#33502274)

in some grand sense moving forward or just changing a lot is not a scientifically decidable question, at least for the foreseeable future.

start trekking across the universe, were only moving forward because we can't find reverse.

Re:This is incredible news (1)

Builder (103701) | more than 3 years ago | (#33498072)

I have a feeling that they're certainly smarter then you ;)

Re:This is incredible news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33499940)

If you can't even spell "central nervous system", you have no business discussing the science that led to it's evolution. Just sayin'...

Re:This is incredible news (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 3 years ago | (#33502222)

is someone who takes their time to think about something smarter than someone who makes snap decisions?

Re:This is incredible news (2, Interesting)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496654)

Are plants smarter than us? Maybe we are turning a corner with this one.

Depends.

Give me 2 billion years to make it work through trial and error, and if I can't figure it out by then, I'll concede that plants may be smarter.

And as an alternative, let me paraphrase:

Are plants smarter than me? Maybe, maybe. I have yet to meet one that can outsmart axe.

Re:This is incredible news (1)

lysdexia (897) | more than 3 years ago | (#33497084)

I have yet to meet one that can outsmart axe.

Yeah, that shit'd floor a yak at 100 meters.

Re:This is incredible news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33497330)

Stay cool and confident throughout the day using AXE.

Re:This is incredible news (1)

amRadioHed (463061) | more than 3 years ago | (#33498840)

Solar power does work great for plants, but I wouldn't say they are better at energy production then us. Plants are only able to convert about 5% of the light that hits them into energy. That low efficiency is adequate for them only because their energy requirements are so low. They barely move, and they don't have complex, power hungry brains.

Re:This is incredible news (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#33499616)

Plants are only able to convert about 5% of the light that hits them into energy. That low efficiency is adequate for them only because their energy requirements are so low. They barely move, and they don't have complex, power hungry brains.

You realize, of course, that your last sentence also describes the average American in their living room. Therefore, this plant based approach might be a good one to emulate in our goal to reduce petrochemical use.

Re:This is incredible news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33500432)

Hurray for someone developing commercially avaliable products that actually work...oh wait.

I'm still waiting for my surface plasmon processor requiring near zero input energy with performance thousands of times better than their electron pushing cousins.

But you know I'm not picky I'll settle for muon catalyzed cold fusion reactors or room temperature super conductors.

Extraordinary claims are made every day for recognition, profit or both. Until something is mass produced at scale and commercially avaliable it might as well not exist. If you blindly bet against any sufficiently advanced/new/disruptive technology you'll be right a heck of a lot more than you would be wrong.

I'm not trying to disparage progress but at the same time it is prudent to hedge your expectations.

Re:This is incredible news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33496512)

I just wonder if it's better to do this or try to figure out how to make electricity from plants. Because essentially it's the same thing?

Re:This is incredible news (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 3 years ago | (#33501362)

Plant efficiency is far, far inferior to our current silicon-based photovoltaics.

Re:This is incredible news (2, Informative)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 3 years ago | (#33497116)

Now all we need is to mimic Chlorophyll F and start capturing everything from beginning IR (720nm) on down. I'd love to see a solar cell that can respond to all of the wavelengths currently covered by terrestrial and marine plant life.

You're in luck.

Existing solar cells do capture everything from 720 nm on down-- in fact, silicon responds out to about 1000 nm. Existing solar cells do respond to all the wavelengths currently covered by terrestrial and marine plant life.

Re:This is incredible news (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 3 years ago | (#33501420)

Actually, no. If you look at the color of the solar panel, you'll find its wavelength gap that it doesn't pick up light from, as that's what is being essentially reflected back to you.

Most solar panels work best under green and red light, and deeper violets, IR has typically had too low of an energy potential to have any worthwhile use. Typical blues get pretty much ignored, which makes no sense because blue has the higher energy potential.

BTW - 720 on down means DECREASING wavelengths - as in going from IR DOWN to the UV range, not going from almost-visible IR even further UP the wavelength scale.

IR gives us the potential to capture light on cloudy days - witness the absolute shit performance of most solar cells under that condition - this breakthrough helps us get a bit closer to understanding a potentially higher-efficiency means of harvesting IR light.

Another thing that chlorophyll f can do for us is (if we can get it GM into other pants) start growing crops in areas where they normally would not survive. Photosynthesis with IR light was long figured impossible until just a few years ago, and that was reinforced with the most recent discovery of chlorophyll f. Now if we can figure out how plants are converting IR energy into energy that can split molecules apart, we'll also have new methods of hydrogen production.

Tutorial on solar cell spectral response (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 3 years ago | (#33504972)

Actually, no. If you look at the color of the solar panel, you'll find its wavelength gap that it doesn't pick up light from

Actually, no. if you would look at the reflectance of a solar panel with a spectrophotometer, you'll discover that, although (for example) silicon panels do look blue, even in the blue the reflectance is very low-- about 8% or so until you get below about 250 nm, where there's just not that many photons in sunlight. It just "looks" blue, because the reflectivity in the blue, low as it is, is more than the reflectivity elsewhere in the visible spectrum.

, as that's what is being essentially reflected back to you.

You can't see the "wavelength gap where it doesn't pick up light"-- that's in the infrared, below the ability of your eyes to see. If you could see in that wavelength, though, the semiconductor would be transparent.

Most solar panels work best under green and red light, and deeper violets, IR has typically had too low of an energy potential to have any worthwhile use.

I'm not quite sure what you're talking about. Silicon cells roll off for wavelengths below about 1000 nm, which is very definitely in the infrared. (FWIW, silicon has a bandgap of about 1.1 eV-- you do the math.). High efficiency triple junction cells go considerably further into the infrared. The cell is most efficient for light very close to the bandgap-- that is, silicon cells have peak conversion efficiency around 950 nm or so.

Typical blues get pretty much ignored, which makes no sense because blue has the higher energy potential.

Blue does have higher energy per photon, but the spectrum has far fewer photons there. It doesn't get "ignored"-- in fact, most cells are quite good at converting the blue photons (they start rolling off in the near UV). However, it's not optimum to make a solar cell have peak response in the blue; there just aren't enough photons there. For a single junction cell, optimum bandgap is about 1.5 eV. For a multijunction cell, though, you do want the top cell to have good blue response.

Re:Tutorial on solar cell spectral response (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 3 years ago | (#33505214)

I suppose I should clarify that comment, since I'm sure it'll be read wrong-- I said "Silicon cells roll off for wavelengths below about 1000 nm"... what I'd intended to say here is that the performance drops to zero for wavelengths "longer" than about 1000 nm. ("below" meaning lower in energy, but longer in wavelength.)

First naysay (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33496282)

Wonder how many plants in how many rainforests will be destroyed to mine the nanomaterials needed to create artificial plant like solar photovoltaics.

Re:First naysay (2, Interesting)

geogob (569250) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496330)

The nice things about plant cells or structure is that you can grow them. In this case I can only guess that it would probably even be more efficient than to "mine" forest. Also you wouldn't need so much of it because you don't use it for its energy content, but for its energy conversion capacity. That's huge difference.

Re:First naysay (1)

daveime (1253762) | more than 3 years ago | (#33497650)

And just think of all the Carbon Dioxide we can use up in the process. And before you start blathering about night time when they consume Oxygen ... well duh, solar cells ... just leave the bloody light on !

Green goo? (1)

Acetylane_Rain (1894120) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496298)

When I skimmed the summary I thought it was gray goo [wikimedia.org] time already. On closer reading, however, it appears that the molecules still need to be given a push to reassemble. The article doesn't answer the question of how much energy is needed to remove the surfactant.

Re:Green goo? (2, Informative)

Khyber (864651) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496312)

"The article doesn't answer the question of how much energy is needed to remove the surfactant."

However much it takes to push it through the filter membrane, per the article.

WTF? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33496320)

Is this some kind of ATP hijack?

Re:WTF? (5, Interesting)

mr_mischief (456295) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496370)

Per the article it's not nearly as biological as "plant-inspired" makes it sound.

They are using the photovoltaic effect to generate electricity on some set of proteins. Then carbon nanotubes conduct the electricity from the proteins to a common circuit. They are using phospholipids (whatever phospholipids are) along with the nanotubes to coerce proper alignment between the nanotubes and the proteins in the photovoltaic reaction sites.

The combination works pretty well (40% efficiency with sparsely populated functional structures in the solution for the prototype) until it starts to break down. The inspiration from plants is mainly that they can introduce a substance (a surfactant more specifically, although the blurb doesn't specify which) that breaks the stuff down fast, then filter the surfactant out through a membrane and the working portion self-assembles again at full efficiency.

It's this repeatable self-assembly that was biologically inspired, and it's probably necessary for high-efficiency photovoltaic solar cells since pretty much everything more efficient than silicon does break down over time. By not just accounting for the breakdown, but doing it early and often and performing a repair phase through self-assembly, it is hoped they can have high efficiency solar cells with long lifespans.

That's gleaned from TFA, which isn't much longer than what I wrote.

Re:WTF? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33496756)

Phospholipids are little cute guys that make up your cellular membrane (a phospholipid bi-layer). They look something like this (in as much justice as ascii can do):

o=;

They have a phosphate head (that's the round bit) with two lipid tails, one saturated fat, and one unsaturated fat.

The phosphate side is hydrophilic (it likes water) and the lipid side is hydrophobic (doesn't like water). So a whole bunch of them will collect together tail-to-tail and side-to-side to make your semi-permeable cellular membrane.

Re:WTF? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33497228)

Sir, your code is clearly wrong. That's what my compiler has to say about it:

phospholipid.c:1: warning: data definition has no type or storage class
phospholipid.c:1: error: expected expression before ‘;’ token

Where can I post a bug report?

Re:WTF? (1)

TrashGod (752833) | more than 3 years ago | (#33497502)

And two such sheets will self-assemble into a lipid bilayer [wikipedia.org] .

Re:WTF? (1)

cdpage (1172729) | more than 3 years ago | (#33497804)

40%? that's amazing ...what are the current top picks of efficiencies at?

Re:WTF? (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33497970)

They are using phospholipids (whatever phospholipids are)

wikipedia is your friend. [wikipedia.org]

Phospholipids are a class of lipids and are a major component of all cell membranes as they can form lipid bilayers. Most phospholipids contain a diglyceride, a phosphate group, and a simple organic molecule such as choline; one exception to this rule is sphingomyelin, which is derived from sphingosine instead of glycerol. The first phospholipid identified as such in biological tissues was lecithin, or phosphatidylcholine, in the egg yolk, by Theodore Nicolas Gobley, a French chemist and pharmacist, in 1847.

And what is a lipid?

Lipids are a broad group of naturally occurring molecules which includes fats, waxes, sterols, fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D, E and K), monoglycerides, diglycerides, phospholipids, and others. The main biological functions of lipids include energy storage, as structural components of cell membranes, and as important signaling molecules.

Lipids may be broadly defined as hydrophobic or amphiphilic small molecules; the amphiphilic nature of some lipids allows them to form structures such as vesicles, liposomes, or membranes in an aqueous environment. Biological lipids originate entirely or in part from two distinct types of biochemical subunits or "building blocks": ketoacyl and isoprene groups.[4] Using this approach, lipids may be divided into eight categories: fatty acyls, glycerolipids, glycerophospholipids, sphingolipids, saccharolipids and polyketides (derived from condensation of ketoacyl subunits); and sterol lipids and prenol lipids (derived from condensation of isoprene subunits).

Although the term lipid is sometimes used as a synonym for fats, fats are a subgroup of lipids called triglycerides. Lipids also encompass molecules such as fatty acids and their derivatives (including tri-, di-, and monoglycerides and phospholipids), as well as other sterol-containing metabolites such as cholesterol.[5] Although humans and other mammals use various biosynthetic pathways to both break down and synthesize lipids, some essential lipids cannot be made this way and must be obtained from the diet.

Re:WTF? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33498408)

40% efficiency... of what? The MIT article suggests that the reaction per protien is "about 40 percent efficient, or about double the efficiency of today’s best solar cells." This is incredibly misleading on so many levels. First of all, the best solar cells are capable of slightly higher than 40% efficiency. Then you have to consider that this figure is efficiency of converting the entire solar spectrum into into electricity. So we're talking about the efficiency of absorbing a really wide range of wavelengths, and then extracting the generated carriers to produce current. The 40% figure quoted in the article is probably for a single wavelength, and doesn't take into account extraction losses (or reflection losses etc). Plus, if it's a single molecule then there have to be huge error margins in that calculation. It's just a headline-grabbing figure that has no basis in reality, and is really, really misleading.

Organic solar cells have two problems: poor efficiency and poor stability. This work has a lot of potential for improving the stability of organic solar cells, but it doesn't sound like it do anything to help improve their (currently awful) efficiency. By contrast, most kinds of inorganic solar cells are very stable (including almost all of those with higher efficiency than silicon), and much, much, much more efficient than organic solar cells.

Incredibly misleading press releases -and, sometimes, misleading journal papers- are the reason that everyone gets annoyed by the fact that there's a hundred photovoltaics break-throughs every day, but none of this translates into products you can buy. Part of it is because there's a long way from the lab to a commercial process, but part is also due to the initial lab results being completely over-exagerated.

YKYBWTMPL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33496430)

You Know You've Been Watching Too Much Porn Lately when you see ATP and start wondering what the last letter means...

Concidentally.. (0, Offtopic)

Datamonstar (845886) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496334)

I'm reading the Diamond Age right now. Can't wait to pirate me some nanos for my daughter.

Re:Concidentally.. (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496402)

I'm reading the Diamond Age right now. Can't wait to pirate me some nanos for my daughter.

This is /., you have to say "Infringe the copyright of some nanos for my female instance".

Re:Concidentally.. (3, Informative)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496468)

This is /., you have to say "Infringe the copyright of some nanos for my female instance".

FAIL. She's not his female instance, she's a derived class.

Re:Concidentally.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33496572)

FAIL2. there's nothing classy about it.

Re:Concidentally.. (2, Funny)

lysdexia (897) | more than 3 years ago | (#33497114)

It was amazing how early mine started using decorators.

Re:Concidentally.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33497668)

She's an instance of a derived class. She could have been a twin. She could be cloned.

Re:Concidentally.. (0, Offtopic)

hitmark (640295) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496616)

Depends, was it actual physical nanos or just their design schematics?

BREAKING NEWS: THERE IS NO BREAKING NEWS!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33496348)

Nothing to report. STAY TUNED for breaking news about no breaking news !!

Let me be the first to say ... (1)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496382)

Now that is freaking cool technology.

Excellent! However... (1)

Cheerio Boy (82178) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496408)

Incredibly cool! I hope we can work towards growing solar panels soon!

That said until I see it on a website to be purchased I'm going to stick with regular solar cells.

So much of this extremely cool tech just never seems to reach the shopping cart so to speak.

Just plant some trees (1)

Pegasus (13291) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496674)

The best growing "solar panels", freely available! :)

Or maybe some vegatables in a garden?

Re:Just plant some trees (2, Funny)

TheFakeMcCoy (1485631) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496720)

Just let me know when I can plug my TV directly into my ficus.

Re:Just plant some trees (3, Funny)

lysdexia (897) | more than 3 years ago | (#33497130)

"Ficus Benjimina" - latin for "tree that dies in your house"

Re:Excellent! However... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33496812)

So much of this extremely cool tech just never seems to reach the shopping cart so to speak.

About 70 years ago, atomic fission was quite cool. It didn't quite make it to the shopping cart (so to speak), but it stuck.

patents and the likes (0, Offtopic)

toQDuj (806112) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496436)

And now they will have patented the hell out of the technology so no-one touches it without having to pay. Of course, this is the way universities make money. Ugh. I still hate the "patent courses" we got in our engineering education. .. And the teams of helpful university people in the patent office, just chomping at the bit to harvest yet another patent. ... or maybe I am just being too negative.

Re:patents and the likes (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33497892)

And now they will have patented the hell out of the technology so no-one touches it without having to pay.

Only for 20 years, which IMO is reasonable, unlike copyrights which are NOT reasonable. Giving a truly limited time monopoly does further innovation, while the virtually unlimited copyright terms do not. I'm sure it cost a lot of money to develop this tech, without the limited monopoly it would be much harder to recoup the investment.

Re:patents and the likes (1)

toQDuj (806112) | more than 3 years ago | (#33497946)

Sure, but it is universities in this case, which should not have to worry (much) about the money it cost. The problem I see is that I now encounter patents of fields I consider doing research in. In order not to enter legal territory, it is safer for me to research something else.

So if others do as I do, there will be a lot less research than what could have been done in 20 years if there were no patents. It isn't that patents are stopping innovation, they are just slowing it down to a glacial pace.

On top of that you have the question whether it is ethical for publicly funded universities to patent research they promised would be benefiting society when they applied for the grant.

Wait, what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33496478)

I feel asleep and then when I woke up it was the future.

IPCC must suppress this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33496524)

If it enabled solar energy to meet the world's energy needs, there's be no need for the IPCC, and they'd have to disband. Do you think they'll give up all thet money and power willingly? It isn't only corporations that are money-grabbing weasels you know!

Reporting Back (0, Offtopic)

pinkushun (1467193) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496532)

I actually read TFA! Very interesting. That is all. *sips coffee*

What happens when ... (0, Offtopic)

Skapare (16644) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496556)

... we spill enough of this stuff into the ocean?

Re:What happens when ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33496692)

1. We electrocute all the fish.
2. Commercial whaling suddenly becomes a lot cheaper.
3. ...
4. ???
5. PROFIT!

Re:What happens when ... (1)

Vintermann (400722) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496784)

Ice 9.

this would be great... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33496780)

to replace the solar power that I can't currently afford to use...

Regenerating? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33496882)

Since MIT does everything, I'm waiting til the day they make a regenerating penis...

Re:Regenerating? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33497480)

Why can't you wait, do you need it right now?

Just one word (1)

Silpher (1379267) | more than 3 years ago | (#33496944)

Eureka!

Re:Just one word (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33498836)

Hand me a towell!

When a surfactant is added to the mix . . . (1)

lysdexia (897) | more than 3 years ago | (#33497072)

Quick infrastructure hit? Fly over the sun farm with a crop duster full of Lemon Fresh Joy.
Fantastic work, though.

Hype (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33497504)

More MIT hype and self-congratulation.

Re:Hype (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33497956)

They'd better hurry and enjoy it. If I read the story right, the self-assembling photovoltaic cells are going to assemble themselves from MIT. I don't know if that is the inanimate objects, or everything in their path. I hope they don't go beyond there. Self replicating species are well known for destroying large areas of the planet. Just look at .. hmmm, what were those called again? Oh ya. Humans.

The start of replicators (1)

hesaigo999ca (786966) | more than 3 years ago | (#33497938)

I saw an episode of SG1 where they were trying to create replicating materials, and ended up with these replicators, I imagine it is along the same lines?

Re:The start of replicators (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33503232)

That's quite an imagination you have there.

What is the healthy limit for solar energy (1)

maratumba (1409075) | more than 3 years ago | (#33498166)

if we cover the planet with solar panels, that wouldn't be good right? So there should be a limit of healthy solar energy use before messing with planet's heat balance.

Any Ideas what that should be?

Re:What is the healthy limit for solar energy (1)

boxwood (1742976) | more than 3 years ago | (#33500072)

not really a worry cooling down the planet... we already have effective ways of warming it up.

The self-repairing isn't the headline. (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33499476)

The real story here is buried at the end of TFA:

The individual reactions of these new molecular structures in converting sunlight are about 40 percent efficient, or about double the efficiency of today's best commercial solar cells.

The real headine is:

Scientists Double Efficiency of Solar Cells

Nerds!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33503444)

Nerds!!!

Disposal (1)

nicks,nicks,nicks! (1312041) | more than 3 years ago | (#33503830)

Every time I read a new material or new technology or gadget using nano-technology and nanotubes and such, I always wonder whether the inventors have thought of how they would dispose of the stuff so it doesn't harm the environment when it is EOL'ed. This, IMO, is a much neglected part of any news story which extols the virtues of nano-technology enabled foobar invention.
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