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Solar cells could get quantum boost

Atoms' fuzzy energy levels could be exploited to enhance photovoltaics and semiconductor lasers, study suggests

9:26am, August 26, 2011

Adding a bit of quantum fuzz could provide a free power boost to lasers and solar panels. Blurry atoms that can exist in two states at once should help such devices more efficiently harness energy from light, a new analysis suggests.  

“The key is … we can now do things in quantum optics that we didn’t think we could do 20 years ago,” says Marlan Scully of Texas A&M University in College Station and Princeton University, who led the new analysis that will appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In a semiconductor laser, electrons jump to a higher energy level when struck by light and emit laser light by falling back to a lower energy level. Some of the energy absorbed by the particle inevitably winds up as waste heat.

Customizing lasers at the subatomic scale could reclaim some of this heat. Instead of a single lowest energy level for electrons, atoms can also contain a pair of levels very close

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