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Gizmorama - April 30, 2018

Good Morning,

The more articles I read about nanoparticles the more I think they are going to be the tech of the future. A new nanoparticle could be the key for converting unseen light into energy in solar panels. Seems like a bright idea to me.

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- New nanoparticle could help solar panels convert unseen light into energy --*

Scientists have developed a new nanoparticle that can absorb near-infrared light and reemit it as visible light, which could allow solar panels to convert unseen light into usable energy.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory coated tiny particles in organic dyes. The dyes work like antennae, which allowed scientists to fine-tune the nanoparticle's light-converting properties.

"These organic dyes capture broad swaths of near-infrared light," Bruce Cohen, a scientist at Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry, said in a news release.

Most solar technologies that focus on visible light fail to absorb near-infrared light, allowing a solid chunk of the solar spectrum to go to waste. Roughly 44 percent of all light that hits Earth's surface is visible light. Infrared radiation accounts for 49.4 percent. Near-infrared wavelengths are those most similar to visible wavelengths.

Experiments showed the addition of dyes boosted the efficiency of the nanoparticles, amplifying the brightness of the reemitted light by a factor of 33,000.

The breakthrough, published Monday in the journal Nature Photonics, was preceded by years of experimentation and research.

Scientists had previously shown dyes to enhance the light-converting properties of lanthanide metal ions inside nanocrystals, but researchers couldn't pinpoint the mechanism responsible. Repeat experiments revealed the dyes to be vulnerable to degradation after repeat exposure to infrared light.

"There was a lot of excitement and then a lot of confusion," Cohen said. "It had us scratching our heads. Nobody knew exactly how the dyes were interacting with the nanoparticle surface."

During the most recent experiments, scientists were able to isolate and identify what's known as a "triplet state" between the dye and the nanoparticles' lanthanide metal ions. Scientists recorded a match between the measurements of the dye's light emission and the particles' light absorption.

"The peaks -- in dye emission and UCNP absorption -- matched almost exactly," Cohen said.

By upping the number of metal ions in the nanoparticles, researchers were able to further amplify the triplet state.

"The metals are promoting dyes to their triplet states, which helps to explain both the efficiency of energy transfer and the instability of the dyes, since triplets tend to degrade in air," Cohen said.

Because the tiny particles are mostly transparent, scientists think they could simply be applied to the surface of photovoltaic cells in solar panels. The particles could boost the ability of the solar cells to harvest energy from infrared without impacting its ability to absorb visible light.

*-- Hubble telescope has helped scientists better understand the cosmos --*

Today, astronomers know the age and size of the universe with greater certainty and precision than they did 28 years ago -- and it's all thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope.

"When I was a grad student 30 years ago, we were arguing about the size and scale of the universe," NASA scientist Dr. Jeff Hayes told UPI.

Hayes has said those arguments featured estimates differing by a factor of two.

"Today, thanks to Hubbles' observations, we are down to a couple of percent," he said.

Hubble was designed to measure the size and age of the universe, as well as the rate of its expansion, and it succeeded in doing just that. According to Hayes, this was Hubble's biggest breakthrough.

Hubble was launched on April 19, 1990. The telescope celebrated its 28th anniversary, or birthday, on Thursday with a remarkable double portrait of the Lagoon Nebula. That release was followed-up on Monday by stunning video of spiral galaxies colliding.

Hubble gets a lot of press for its ability to render the cosmos in stunning color and detail, but it's contributions to science can't be ignored.

After eight years of studying the variable light of Cepheids, a type of pulsating star, as well as the emissions of distant supernovae, Hubble helped scientists peg the age of the universe at roughly 13.7 billion years.

Observations made during the telescope's first decade in space also helped scientists measure the acceleration of the universe, the so-called Hubble Constant. Researchers determined the universe's expansion increases by 43 miles per second for every 3.26 million light-years one travels farther into outer space.

After helping scientists accomplish their initial scientific goals, Hubble didn't slow down.

Hayes thinks the telescope's second-biggest breakthrough came only recently, when it helped astronomers confirm the optical origin of the gravitational waves produced by a neutron star collision.

"The LIGO and Virgo detectors, of course, first observed the gravitational waves, but Hubble located the optical counterpoint, and that's really really cool," Hayes said.

In addition to those two breakthroughs, Hubble has advanced astronomers' understanding of the lifecycle of stars.

"Thanks to Hubble, we now have the ability to see stars as they're coalescing and forming, as well as study the deaths of the stars and the interesting planetary nebulae that result," Hayes said.

Hubble hasn't always been perfect.

Though it was launched in 1990, some of the telescope's technology was more than a decade old by the time it was conducting science.

"It was designed in the 1970s, so the technology was very 70s," Hayes said.

The photomultiplier tubes used on Hubble offered extreme sensitivity to a variety of wavelengths, but they were a bit wily in space.

"You want solid state devices in space, we learned that lesson very quickly," Hayes.

Hubble's tech has been upgraded over the years, and Hayes said the space telescope has really helped drive the growth of optics technology.

"Solid state detectors are now way more efficient at a larger range of wavelengths," he said.

There's a lot of buzz about NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which is due to launch in 2020. While Hubble will no longer be the top dog, it will still be essential. Hubble's smaller, wide-angle lens will continue to survey the skies in search of interesting cosmic phenomena -- phenomena that JWST can explore in even greater detail.

"The relationship between James Webb and Hubble will be synergistic, as much as I hate to use that term," Hayes said.

At least for a couple years, however, Hubble will remain king.


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