Invisible Glass

If you have ever watched television in anything but total darkness, used a computer while sitting underneath overhead lighting or near a window, or taken a photo outside on a sunny day with your smartphone, you have experienced a major nuisance of modern display screens: glare. Most of today’s electronics devices are equipped with glass or plastic covers for protection against dust, moisture, and other environmental contaminants, but light reflection from these surfaces can make information displayed on the screens difficult to see. Now, scientists at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) — a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory — have demonstrated a method for reducing the surface reflections from glass surfaces to nearly zero by etching tiny nanoscale features into them.

Whenever light encounters an abrupt change in refractive index (how much a ray of light bends as it crosses from one material to another, such as between air and glass), a portion of the light is reflected. The nanoscale features have the effect of making the refractive index change gradually from that of air to that of glass, thereby avoiding reflections. The ultra-transparent nanotextured glass is antireflective over a broad wavelength range (the entire visible and near-infrared spectrum) and across a wide range of viewing angles. Reflections are reduced so much that the glass essentially becomes invisible.

This “invisible glass” could do more than improve the user experience for consumer electronic displays. It could enhance the energy-conversion efficiency of solar cells by minimizing the amount of sunlight lost to refection. It could also be a promising alternative to the damage-prone antireflective coatings conventionally used in lasers that emit powerful pulses of light, such as those applied to the manufacture of medical devices and aerospace components.

We’re excited about the possibilities,” said CFN Director Charles Black, corresponding author on the paper published online on October 30 in Applied Physics Letters. “Not only is the performance of these nanostructured materials extremely high, but we’re also implementing ideas from nanoscience in a manner that we believe is conducive to large-scale manufacturing.”

Our role in the CFN is to demonstrate how nanoscience can facilitate the design of new materials with improved properties,” concluded Black. “This work is a great example of that–we’d love to find a partner to help advance these remarkable materials toward technology.”


How To Produce Massively And Easily Solar Panels

Nanoscale materials feature extraordinary, billionth-of-a-meter qualities that transform everything from energy generation to data storage. But while a nanostructured solar cell may be fantastically efficient, that precision is notoriously difficult to achieve on industrial scales. The solution may be self-assembly, or training molecules to stitch themselves together into high-performing configurations.

Now, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a laser-based technique to execute nanoscale self-assembly with unprecedented ease and efficiency.

solarPanelWe design materials that build themselves,” said Kevin Yager, a scientist at Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN). “Under the right conditions, molecules will naturally snap into a perfect configuration. The challenge is giving these nanomaterials the kick they need: the hotter they are, the faster they move around and settle into the desired formation. We used lasers to crank up the heat.”


Doubling The Electrical Output Of Solar Cells

One challenge in improving the efficiency of solar cells is that some of the absorbed light energy is lost as heat. So scientists have been looking to design materials that can convert more of that energy into useful electricity. Now a team from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and Columbia University has paired up polymers that recover some of that lost energy by producing two electrical charge carriers per unit of light instead of the usual one.

solar cell
Critically, we show how this multiplication process can be made efficient on a single molecular polymer chain,” said physicist Matthew Sfeir, who led the research at Brookhaven Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), a DOE Office of Science User Facility. Having the two charges on the same molecule means the light-absorbing, energy-producing materials don’t have to be arrayed as perfect crystals to produce extra electrical charges. Instead, the self-contained materials work efficiently when dissolved in liquids, which opens the way for a wide range of industrial scale manufacturing processes, including “printingsolar-energy-producing material like ink.

The research is published as an Advance Online Publication in Nature Materials, January 12, 2015.