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Friday, 3 August 2012

Transparent solar cells for windows that generate electricity

Aug 3, 2012

Visibly transparent photovoltaic devices can open photovoltaic applications in many areas, such as building-integrated photovoltaics or integrated photovoltaic chargers for portable electronics. We demonstrate high-performance, visibly transparent polymer solar cells fabricated via solution processing. The photoactive layer of these visibly transparent polymer solar cells harvests solar energy from the near-infrared region while being less sensitive to visible photons. The top transparent electrode employs a highly transparent silver nanowire–metal oxide composite conducting film, which is coated through mild solution processes. With this combination, we have achieved 4% power-conversion efficiency for solution-processed and visibly transparent polymer solar cells. The optimized devices have a maximum transparency of 66% at 550 nm.

Scientists are reporting development of a new transparent solar cell, an advance toward giving windows in homes and other buildings the ability to generate electricity while still allowing people to see outside. Their report appears in the journal ACS Nano.

Yang Yang, Rui Zhu, Paul S. Weiss and colleagues explain that there has been intense world-wide interest in so-called polymer solar cells (PSCs), which are made from plastic-like materials. PSCs are lightweight and flexible and can be produced in high volume at low cost. That interest extends to producing transparent PSCs. However, previous versions of transparent PSCs have had many disadvantages, which the team set out to correct.

They describe a new kind of PSC that produces energy by absorbing mainly infrared light, not visible light, making the cells 66 percent transparent to the human eye. They made the device from a photoactive plastic that converts infrared light into an electrical current. Another breakthrough is the transparent conductor made of a mixture of silver nanowire and titanium dioxide nanoparticles, which was able to replace the opaque metal electrode used in the past. This composite electrode also allowed the solar cell to be fabricated economically by solution processing. The authors suggest the panels could be used in smart windows or portable electronics.

The authors acknowledge funding from the Engineering School of UCLA, the Office of Naval Research and the Kavli Foundation.

Source: American Chemical Society 

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The first robot that mimics the water striders’ jumping abilities

Aug 3, 2012

Credit: American Chemical Society

The first bio-inspired microrobot capable of not just walking on water like the water strider – but continuously jumping up and down like a real water strider – now is a reality. Scientists reported development of the agile microrobot, which could use its jumping ability to avoid obstacles on reconnaissance or other missions, in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Qinmin Pan and colleagues explain that scientists have reported a number of advances toward tiny robots that can walk on water. Such robots could skim across lakes and other bodies of water to monitor water quality or act as tiny spies. However, even the most advanced designs – including one from Pan’s team last year – can only walk on water. Pan notes that real water striders actually leap. Making a jumping robot is difficult because the downward force needed to propel it into the air usually pushes the legs through the water’s surface. Pan’s group looked for novel mechanisms and materials to build a true water-striding robot.

Using porous, super water-repellant nickel foam to fabricate the three supporting and two jumping legs, the group made a robot that could leap more than 5.5 inches, despite weighing as much as 1,100 water striders. In experiments, the robot could jump nearly 14 inches forward – more than twice its own length – leaving the water at about 3.6 miles per hour. The authors report that the ability to leap will make the bio-inspired microrobot more agile and better able to avoid obstacles it encounters on the water’s surface.

The authors acknowledge funding from the State Key Laboratory of Robotics and System of Harbin Institute of Technology and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Source:  American Chemical Society

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Printing 3D Blood Vessel Networks out of Sugar

Aug 3, 2012

3D Printing Blood Vessel Networks

Scientists can already grow thin layers of cells, so one proposed solution to the vasculature problem is to “print” the cells layer by layer, leaving openings for blood vessels as necessary. But this method leaves seams, and when blood is pumped through the vessels, it pushes those seams apart.

Bioengineers from the University of Pennsylvania have turned the problem inside out by using a 3D printer called a RepRap to make templates of blood vessel networks out of sugar. Once the networks are encased in a block of cells, the sugar can be dissolved, leaving a functional vascular network behind.

“I got the first hint of this solution when I visited a Body Worlds exhibit, where you can see plastic casts of free-standing, whole organ vasculature,” says Bioengineering postdoc Jordan Miller.

Miller, along with Christopher Chen, the Skirkanich Professor of Innovation in the Department of Bioengineering, other members of Chen’s lab, and colleagues from MIT, set out to show that this method of developing sugar vascular networks helps keep interior cells alive and functioning.

After the researchers design the network architecture on a computer, they feed the design to the RepRap. The printer begins building the walls of a stabilizing mold. Then it then draws filaments across the mold, pulling the sugar at different speeds to achieve the desired thickness of what will become the blood vessels.

After the sugar has hardened, the researchers add liver cells suspended in a gel to the mold. The gel surrounds the filaments, encasing the blood vessel template. After the gel sets it can be removed from the mold with the template still inside. The block of gel is then washed in water, dissolving the remaining sugar inside. The liquid sugar flows out of the vessels it has created without harming the growing cells.

“This new technology, from the cell’s perspective, makes tissue formation a gentle and quick journey,” says Chen.

The researchers have successfully pumped nutrient-rich media, and even blood, through these gels blocks’ vascular systems. They also have experimentally shown that more of the liver cells survive and produce more metabolites in gels that have these networks.

The RepRap makes testing new vascular architectures quick and inexpensive, and the sugar is stable enough to ship the finished networks to labs that don’t have 3D printers of their own. The researchers hope to eventually use this method to make implantable organs for animal studies.

University of Pennsylvania