These nanostructures will be so teeny they can only be viewed when magnified a million times under a high-powered electron microscope.
Doty’s co-investigators include Joshua Zide, Diane Sellers and Chris Kloxin, all in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering; and Emily Day and John Slater, both in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
While photon upconversion isn’t new, the team’s approach to it is.
They are developing new semiconductor structures containing multiple layers of different materials, such as aluminum arsenide and gallium bismuth arsenide, each only a few nanometers thick. This “tailored landscape” will control the flow of electrons into states with varying potential energy, turning once-wasted photons into useful energy.
One of their techniques is molecular beam epitaxy, in which nanostructures are built by depositing layers of atoms one at a time. Each structure is tested to see how well it absorbs and emits light, and the results will be used to tailor the structure to improve performance. The researchers also will develop a milk-like solution filled with millions of identical individual nanoparticles, each one containing multiple layers of different materials. The multiple layers of this structure will implement the photon ratchet idea.
They envision a future upconversion “paint” that could be easily applied to solar cells, windows and other commercial products.
The team hopes to develop an upconversion nanoparticle that can be triggered by light to achieve the controlled release of drug therapies deep within diseased human tissue. By minimizing the laser power required, the team believes peripheral damage to normal tissue could be reduced.
“This is high-risk, high-reward research,” Doty said. “High-risk because we don’t yet have proof-of-concept data. High-reward because it has such a huge potential impact in renewable energy to medicine. It’s amazing to think that this same technology could be used to harvest more solar energy and to treat cancer.”
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