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Instead of using conventional sheets of silicon semiconductor the team created long thin silicon wires and embedded them in a polymer substrate - rather like spaghetti placed vertically inside a gelatine solution and left to set. Such a silicon-wire array has proved to be highly efficient at absorbing sunlight. Absorbing 85% of all collectible sunlight, it is the most efficient solar cell microstructure to date.
"These solar cells have, for the first time, surpassed the conventional light-trapping limit for absorbing materials," says Harry Atwater, professor and director of Caltech's Resnick Institute, which focuses on sustainability research.
One of the limitations of current solar cells is that some of the incident sunlight is scattered off the silicon wafer, essentially bouncing off the material rather than interacting with an electron inside. In this new silicon wire array much of the scattered light from one silicon strand is then absorbed by a nearby strand, hence the significant increase in absorption.
But the really important thing is that such absorbed light is actually useful in generating electricity. In order for that to happen a photon of light must interact with an electron thereby creating a charge carrier which is the source of an electric current. This array is able to convert a staggering 90-100% of incident photons into charge carriers.
"It's an important advance." says Atwater, modestly, and all the more impressive in that this is not the development of a new material as such but an ingenious use of existing materials into a novel structure. And, if being so highly efficient wasn't enough, these solar cells are also likely to be flexible and cheaper than existing flat solar cells. The polymer sheet makes the material flexible which means it can be manufactured as a huge roll, making it a much cheaper process than manufacturing brittle flat sheets.
It always seems as if solar power is about to become ubiquitous and yet it never quite happens. Hopefully, it won't be long before our buildings are gift-wrapped in a layer of super-efficient solar cells.
So what defines a planet anyway? Well, I'm going to write a longer article on this very soon, but the thing that got Pluto downgraded is that its orbit not only overlaps with Neptune but is also in a different plane to the other eight major planets. Strangely, NASA still has Pluto in its own planet category and hasn't placed it alongside the other dwarf planets, or planetoids.
Anyway, do you think Pluto should be a planet? You can vote on it during February.
"Greek headlines have woefully underperformed until recently," laments Papandreou Aristophanes, editor of The Watermelon, a Greek satirical magazine,"but Greece is such an obvious homophone that writers could not resist slipping in those sad puns."
"we have not lost our marbles!" Exclaims an unapologetic journalist (who wished to remain anonymous). "We know the market is awash with sub-pun headlines, but we have a reputation to uphold and a triple-A rating to maintain."
"This is the typical behaviour of banksters manipulating our pun market. They pump and dump these lame phrases leaving the hapless reader stranded with bland financial headlines and worthless old newspapers." The old geezers agreed with their comrade and demanded another bottle of Ouzo for the quote.
"The government is considering austerity measures such as trimming the font size of headlines." The Finance Minister, George Georgiou confided. "The ECB seems to be angry with me, but what can I do? I never read the financial press as it's all Greek to me!"
Politicians across Europe are worried about a domino effect kicking in and are holding secret meetings to establish if their own country could be under attack. They fear that bad puns destroy public confidence in the very existence of their governments. Those most at risk may take the drastic measure of changing their country's name to something less toxic.
A senior British comedian let slip that,"We are looking seriously at the feasibility of renaming the island of St Kitts as 'Great Britain' and giving them all our sub-pun debts whilst at the same time calling ourselves 'Little Britain'." The markets remained po-faced at the revelation.
The project, MilkyWay@Home, uses the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) platform, which is widely known for the SETI@home project used to search for signs of extraterrestrial life. Today, MilkyWay@Home has outgrown even this famous project, in terms of speed, making it the fastest computing project on the BOINC platform and perhaps the second fastest public distributed computing program ever in operation (just behind Folding@home).
With some 17,000 active members, Milkyway@Home is generating highly accurate three dimensional models of the Sagittarius stream, which provides knowledge about how the Milky Way galaxy was formed and how tidal tails are created when galaxies merge.
You too can join MilkyWay@Home.
Firstly you'll need a pen... remember pens? No, that's a pencil and can be rubbed out. Yes that's a pen... no it's not broken, you just have to press the top and the nib comes out... very good! Let's start with the easy part: the date. Mmm... you don't spell February like that... no the universe does not come with a psychic spell checker. Yes, I know, June and July are short and easy. OK, now who are you going to write the cheque to? That's nice but "my mum" is not really her name... what's her name? Just "mum", OK, perhaps you can ask her one day. Erm... that big space there is to write out the number in words so let's not run before you can walk, let's put a number in that big box there. This is just an exercise, so any number will do... except a zillion... and there is no way you're going to have a googol in the bank either. Yes, they're funny... marginally. OK, that looks likely, now for the PhD level part of this: writing that number out in words! Yes, words! .......... (!!!) ......... One thing, you also need to practise your signature. Good... and this one... and this one... you're good at this bit, aren't you! OK, that's wonderful, let me keep this for you until the next cheque writing lesson. Right, here's a bit of plastic, don't chew it or try to open locked doors with it.
If you really need help with writing a cheque (or check) then this might help.
Full body scanners are now part of airport security at both Heathrow and Manchester airports. Another step in Britain's march towards renaming itself Airstrip One. The usual pros and cons are tediously aired in the Daily Mail article's comments. There are, however, some ludicrous official guidelines on their use. Passengers are chosen at random for a full body scan, and this now includes children, but we are assured that people will not be targetted because of creed or colour - perhaps only those that merely look suspicious. If you refuse to reveal yourself you will be barred from boarding your flight. I figure it won't be long before such scans are as compulsory as metal detector scans and x-rays. Britain is also the perfect police state experiment as there is nowhere to go without boarding a plane - nowhere worth going to, anyway. The scaremongering about "boob bombs" obviously worked and interesting to see the two articles separated by mere days when in reality these scanners have been tested for a while.
One solution to all this invasion of personal space is to be a good citizen and get yourself tagged with an RFID implant so you can be tracked everywhere you go, the beauty being that you will never notice. It'll come... sooner rather than later.