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March 9th, 2007

The Kitchen Chemistry of Photovoltaics

Ted Sargent is introduced as "the boy wonder of nanotechnology", based on the strength of his book, "The Dance of Molecules".

Sargent introduces us to the beautiful silicon lattices that make information processing possible. We can etch so many transitors in silicon and pass electrons through them because they're so pure. A sheet of silicon has one atom of a trillion out of place.

This purity comes at a price - high temperatures, the inability to interact with other materials. Sargent wonders whether we could make discoveries based on paradigms other than purity and perfection. When we look at nature - the conversion of 6% of the sun's energy via photosynthesis in a leaf - we're looking at much messier, goopier stuff. But there's perfection on a molecular layer - the "absolutely beautiful, seductive, curvy, gorgeous" shape of DNA. The perfection on the molecular level allows the creation of the goopy, spatially unique structures for photosynthesis.


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