Small is powerful

Featured Photo

University physicists (l-r) Professor Krzysztof Kempa, Professor Michael Naughton, chair of the physics department, Postdoctoral Fellow Jakub Rybczynski, and Professor Zhifeng Ren are among the 50 teams and individuals to receive the second annual ”Nano 50 Awards,” announced by the journal Nanotech Briefs, for being “innovators that have significantly impacted—or are expected to impact—the state of the art in nanotechnology.” Their innovation is the use of nano-coaxial cable in the conversion of solar energy to electricity.

Coaxial cable—one wire inside another separated by an insulator—has been used for 50 years because of its highly efficient transmission capability in such applications as connecting computers and cable television, Naughton explains. He recalls the genesis of this project in conversations among his colleagues about their respective work in nanotechnology, the field of manipulating materials at the molecular or atomic level. For Naughton the “eureka” moment came when Kempa began to speculate on the potential applications of nano-coaxial cable, capable of transmitting visible light. “We realized if you could make it, there would be lots of very significant applications,” Naughton recalls.

The four moved to the lab 18 months ago and, applying their combined expertise, created light-transmitting nano-coaxial cable, with an inner “wire” of carbon and an outer wire of aluminum, separated by silicon. A bundle of 1,000 of these wires has the diameter of a human hair. Such cable could be used to miniaturize electrical circuitry, image single protein cells and DNA, create retinal implants to overcome macular degeneration, and detect single molecules of pathogens in the body. The team wants to employ the new technology to enhance the efficiency of converting sunlight to energy.

This feature was posted on Tuesday, December 26, 2006 and is filed under Featured Photo.

Photograph: Gary Gilbert