If the Cylons made solar panels, the panels would assemble themselves

By Eric Wolff | September 10, 2010 9:00 am

self assemblyIn the fifth season of Battlestar Galactica, the Cylons gave the Galactica a kind of spray-on bacteria that could make the walls self-healing. Any race of beings that cold make that work out would surely have commercialized something like the work of MIT researcher Michael Strano who have devised tiny solar-electric generators that can break apart and reassemble. The team published their efforts in Nature Chemistry.

The research solves a significant problem in the shift toward solar power, that of degradation. Even silicon solar panels lose efficiency over time as solar radiation breaks down its components. Yet plants don’t have this problem: they use sugar and minerals to constantly refresh their photosynthetic cells, e.g. leaves. Strano and his colleagues looked at how leaves work to develop their tiny solar generators. Using seven different chemicals the generators will self assemble, even after they’ve broken down, and with no loss of efficiency.

The basic unit requires a synthetic phospholipids, which itself is just a plate to hold the chemicals that react to light. These chemicals release electrons when photons hit them. The phospholipid plates are themselves attracted to carbon nanotoubes. The tubes, which are highly conductive, are lined up in long rows forming a wire to carry the electrons to their destination.

But even through the reaction is 40 percent efficient —- more efficient than standard thin film photovoltaic cells, which capture about 28 percent of sunlight —— that’s not even the impressive part. When the system is damaged, as sunlight is wont to do to solar panels, it will reassemble itself. Strano and his team broke down the system again and again over a 14-hour period and the system consistently put itself back together again with no loss of efficiency.

Take that Cylon Model 6. The humans will have self-assembly without your help.

(picture courtesy of PR Web)


Comments (12)

Links to this Post

  1. Mr. Topp and the Big Bad Blog » This morning coffee is from the Future | September 14, 2010
  2. solinkable.com | September 26, 2010
  1. Ryan

    Ok, now we need to start roofing everyone’s houses with these things so that they provide energy for their own air conditioning.

  2. Yes, let’s start putting up solar panels every where.

    We already know that tall buildings in cities change the local weather patterns. Is that good or bad?

    If the ‘chaos theory’ is correct and the beating of a butterfly’s wings on the other side of the world changes weather where we’re at, what will be the consequence of absorbing the sunlight and heat that normally hits the earth or is reflected back into the atmosphere?

    The simple fact of the matter is that we don’t know and like most ‘state of the art’ hair brained ideas that are proffered by politicians or governments, someone stands to make loads of cash and someone stands to lose loads. It’s usually the little guy that stoopitly! accepts what everyone in the government and media tell us we must.

    Besides, this research is decades away from becoming reality.

  3. William

    We must construct additional Pylons.. err Cylons

  4. Able to reassemble themselves AND with no loss of efficiency? That would solve many problems and worries about the future of solar energy.

  5. I don’t think so. It sounds like the assembled structure is the most energetically stable form of the components. After the energy input of a photon(s) knocks the components apart (and into a higher-energy state) they simply return to their (lower-energy) assembled state, probably losing the excess energy in the form of heat.

    For the non-chemists out there, the light which breaks apart the solar generator is like an arm throwing a ball into the air. Where does the energy come from to return the ball to the earth? It was added to the ball in the form of gravitational potential energy by the arm that threw it. When the ball returns to the ground, much of that energy is given off as heat and sound.

  6. “If the ‘chaos theory’ is correct and the beating of a butterfly’s wings on the other side of the world changes weather where we’re at”

    I don’t think it’s valid to take an analogy of a thought experiment hypothesis and make it into a premise for an argument?

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