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Join the dots in a spray-on solar future
Published November 11, 2005 | times higher education, special supplement on canada

How about laptops and MP3 players that charge themselves? Or cheap, non-polluting solar cells borrowed from the domain of space satellites and used as everyday energy solutions?

Ted Sargent, a 32-year-old nanotechnology professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Toronto, is the force behind such dazzling potential developments.

The key to his research is quantum dots, semi-conductors a scant ten atoms in width.

In January, Sargent and his collaborators published an article in the journal Nature Materials outlining a way to boost the energy capacity of today’s solar cells fivefold using quantum dots that employ infrared light.

But equally important in terms of application is the liquid form that the infrared sensing dots could come in.

“It’s paintable,” says Sargent, offering a vision of a “spray-on solar future” and devices coated with quantum-dotted material and thus able to power themselves.

“What is central to all we do is our ability in my lab to tune particles of different sizes,” says Sargent, who was recently voted one of the world’s top innovators under 35 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Technology Review.

“Control that and you can apply the results to a wide diversity of areas.”