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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.

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