This startup is putting solar cells on a diet, because thinner is better


In the lab of seven-year-old startup Solexel, just south of San Francisco, researchers have been busy re-inventing solar panels made with silicon, the material that already dominates the solar market. The startup is a rare breed these days, and among a dwindling group of venture capital-backed solar materials startups.

Many of these types of startups fell on hard times years back as a glut of cheap solar panels hit the market. Solexel has raised about $200 million in total from investors including Kleiner Perkins, Technology Partners, Intel and DAG Ventures.

But Solexel’s design is novel and it’s developing panels made of ultra-thin silicon solar cells, paired with diodes that can shut down poor-performing ones to prevent them from affecting the output of the neighboring cells. The back of the cells are layered with materials that improve their durability and the efficiency that sunlight is converted into electricity.


We’ll have to…

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Physicists have quantum teleported a particle of light across 25 kilometres

Scientists have successfully teleported the quantum state of a photon to acrystal over 25 kilometres of optical fibre, showing that information can be teleported from light into matter.


Crystals containing photonic information teleported over 25 kilometres.

Image: University of Geneva

The breakthrough was made by a team at the University of Geneva, and according to their press release, the results prove “that the quantum state of a photon can be maintained whilst transporting it into a crystal without the two coming directly into contact“.

Quantum teleportation involves moving tiny bits of data from one place to another instantly, through a phenomenon know as quantum entanglement. Entanglement is when two linked particles act like twins, even when they’re separated, and means that information can instantly be passed from one to the other without them touching.

Researchers are fascinated by quantum teleportation because it could revolutionise the way we carry and transmit data. But they’ve struggled until now to find ways in which quantum information stored in light can be used in existing communication systems, which are matter-based, and transferred further than a few kilometres.

In this new experiment, the physicists took two entangled photons and sent one along 25 kilometres of optical fibre, while the other was sent to a crystal, which stored its information.

A third photon was then sent like a billiard ball into the optical fibre to hit the first photon, obliterating them both.

But the scientists discovered that the information from that third photon wasn’t actually destroyed, but had in fact been transferred into the crystal containing the second entangled photon. Their results are published in Nature Photonics.

This shows “the quantum state of the two entangled photons which are like two Siamese twins, is a channel that empowers the teleportation from light into matter,” co-lead researcher Félix Bussieres said in the press release.

“One needs to imagine the crystal as a memory bank for storing the photon’s information; the latter is transferred over these distances using the teleportation effect,” the press release explains.

There is still a long way to go before we’re using quantum teleportation in communication systems, but this is an important step that suggests the “vehicle” of the information doesn’t matter so much. As the authors write in Nature Photonics, the experiment demonstrates “quantum teleportation of the polarisation state of a telecom-wavelength photon onto the state of a solid-state quantum memory.”

And that opens up a lot of possibilities for future quantum teleportation research.


Incredibly Fast Laser Could Speed Up Your Internet

Laser-internetResearchers in Germany and London have made what may now be the world’s fastest laser, and it could be used to make the Internet quicker.The laser turns on and off at a record-breaking speed. It’s uncertain what the real-world impact may be, but the researchers behind the laser say that it could be a big leap for communication technology and data connection speeds.

When Mashable reached out to the researchers for more details about how the laser would work, one scientist confirmed it could impact the web.

“If one can now switch the laser on and off very fast, then more information is transported for a given time frame,” Carsten Ronning, a scientist from Germany’s Friedrich Schiller University Jena, told Mashable.

The university also partnered with researchers at Imperial College London on the project.

What sets this laser apart from previous iterations is that the zinc oxide nanowire material used to develop the lasers is placed on silver instead of glass, which is traditionally used, according to an Imperial College London news release.

The scientists then use a special technique to squeeze light into a much smaller place than usual. By switching out a glass surface and shoving a bunch of light into a teeny tiny space, the researchers were able to shrink the diameter of the laser down to about a thousandth the size of a human hair, according to the news release. This causes a greater interaction between the light and nanowire, too.

The ultra-thin laser produces as many as 1 trillion pulses per second, making it much faster than your run-of-the-mill laser.

The laser operates stably at room temperature. Ronning said that this is probably the maximum possible speed at which such a laser can be operated.


Now, taste your favourite food online

Bored of 24X7 online viewing, listening and chatting? It’s time to satiate your palate in the virtual world now.

If we believe scientists, a digital device can actually recreate the taste of virtual food and drinks by non-invasive electrical and thermal stimulation of the tongue.

A team led by Nimesha Ranasinghe, an engineer of Sri Lankan origin at the Keio-NUS Cute Centre in Singapore, has invented a simulator that can let you taste your favourite food online. For free, literally.

“This simulator generates signals transmitted through a silver electrode, touching the tip of the tongue, to produce salty, sweet, sour and bitter sensations. By combining different levels of electrical currents and varying the temperature of the electrode, simulation of the tastes can be reproduced,” said Ranasinghe in a press release issued by National University of Singapore.

The research team has developed taste-over-Internet protocol for taste messaging – a data format that facilitates the delivery of information on recreating the different tastes via electrode.

However, the four major tastes form only part of the flavour equation. Smell and texture play key roles which the researchers want to add on for the full tasting experience, the release added.

To achieve this feat, scientists reported sour, salty and bitter sensations from electrical stimulation while minty, spicy and sweet sensations were reported through thermal stimulation on two separate group of individuals.

The group that has thermal stimulation represented minor sensations, requiring further work to intensify the tastes.

“This work has three novel aspects – the studying of the electronic simulation and control of taste sensations achievable through Digital Taste Interface against the properties of current and change in temperature; the method of actuating taste sensations by electrical and thermal stimulation methods, either individually or in combination; and the aim of introducing a practical solution to implement virtual taste interactions in interactive computing systems,” said the release.

The simulator can also work for those having health problems. For instance, diabetics could use the device for a taste of sweetness without affecting their blood sugar levels.

Cancer patients may be able to improve their dulled sense of taste during chemotherapy with the electrode, concluded the study.

New discovery dubbed as ‘Li-Fi‘ to replace Wi-Fi in China?

Chinese scientists have successfully developed a new cheaper way of getting connected to internet by using signals sent through light bulbs instead of radio frequencies as in ‘Wi-Fi‘, a move expected to radically change process of online connectivity.
Four computers can be connected to internet through one- watt LED bulb using light as a carrier instead of traditional radio frequencies, as in Wi-Fi, said Chi Nan, an information technology professor with Shanghai’s Fudan University.
Under the new discovery dubbed as ‘Li-Fi‘, a light bulb with embedded microchips can produce data rates as fast as 150 megabits per second, which is speedier than the average broadband connection in China, said Chi, who leads a Li-Fi research team including scientists from the Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The term Li-Fi was coined by Harald Haas from the University of Edinburgh in the UK and refers to a type of visible light communication technology that delivers a networked, mobile, high-speed communication solution in a similar manner as Wi-Fi.

Disney Research Develops Tactile 3D Touchscreen[Adario Strange]

When some of us hear the name Disney Research, the immediate assumption is that it’s a lab devoted to developing better animatronics or some other similarly whimsical application of bleeding-edge technology. But a new development from the lab could completely change the way we use touchscreens by adding realistic tactile feedback to the 3D images displayed.

In a new video (see above), Disney Research shows off a process it calls “rendering 3D tactile features on touch surfaces.” For the project, the researchers used an electrovibration-based display and a new algorithm developed in-house to allow the human hand to feel the textures of objects as presented on the screen.

The algorithm maps the frictional forces between the screen and the user’s finger to the surface contours of the virtual 3D image presented on the touchscreen. This dynamic allows the system to adjust to various virtual surface sensations on the fly, rather than offering canned sensations as some tactile touchscreen feedback experiments have demonstrated in the past.

This tactile touch system works on everything from map topographies, animals and any number of 3D-rendered objects. The researchers plan to present their findings later this week at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology in Scotland.

“Touch interaction has become the standard for smartphones, tablets and even desktop computers, so designing algorithms that can convert the visual content into believable tactile sensations has immense potential for enriching the user experience,” Ivan Poupyrev, director of the Pittsburgh’s Interaction Group at Disney Research, said in a statement.

“We believe our algorithm will make it possible to render rich tactile information over visual content and that this will lead to new applications for tactile displays.”


Now, ‘feel‘ images on your smartphone

Smartphone users can now ‘feel’ images and objects seen on their touchscreen!
In a game-changing invention, engineers at Disney Research, Pittsburgh, have developed a new technique that allows you to feel the texture of objects seen on a flat touchscreen.
The novel algorithm enables a person sliding a finger across a topographic map displayed on a touchscreen to feel the bumps and curves of hills and valleys, despite the screen’s smooth surface.
The technique is based on the fact that when a person slides a finger over a real physical bump, he perceives the bump largely because lateral friction forces stretch and compress skin on the sliding finger.
By altering the friction encountered as a person’s fingertip glides across a surface, the Disney algorithm can create a perception of a 3D bump on a touch surface.
The method can be used to simulate the feel of a wide variety of objects and textures.
Our brain perceives the 3D bump on a surface mostly from information that it receives via skin stretching,” said Ivan Poupyrev, who directs Disney Research, Pittsburgh’s Interaction Group.
“Therefore, if we can artificially stretch skin on a finger as it slides on the touchscreen, the brain will be fooled into thinking an actual physical bump is on a touchscreen even though the touch surface is completely smooth,” Poupyrev said in a statement.