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Home > Press > Nanotechnology microscope boosts solar research

The microscope is equipped with a tiny metallic tip to see individual atoms, allowing precision better than a hundredth of a nanometer.
The microscope is equipped with a tiny metallic tip to see individual atoms, allowing precision better than a hundredth of a nanometer.

Abstract:
Queensland University of Technology (QUT) is home to a powerful, new microscope being used to develop efficient and cheap plastic solar cells to charge laptops and mobile phones.

Nanotechnology microscope boosts solar research

Brisbane, Australia | Posted on November 16th, 2011

The $1.5 million German-engineered scanning probe microscope is the only one of its kind in Queensland, with four others in Australia located in New South Wales.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Nunzio Motta said the microscope was equipped with a tiny metallic tip to see individual atoms, allowing precision better than a hundredth of a nanometer.

"We will be the only university in Queensland with a microscope like this in operation," he said.

"It will open up many exciting new research opportunities."

Professor Motta, a principal research fellow with the Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering, said the microscope would accelerate QUT's efforts to study new materials with atomic resolution.

QUT researchers have started using the microscope to improve plastic solar cells by mixing them with tiny tubes of highly-conductive carbon, called nanotubes, which are 100 times smaller than a strand of human hair.

"At the moment the plastic solar cells are quite inefficient, but they are already used in niche markets for very low power portable applications," Professor Motta said.

"We are aiming to improve the efficiency of these plastic solar cells by studying the microscopic structure of the material. If we can do that, the advantages would be enormous.

"Plastic solar cells could generate enough energy not only to recharge the batteries of laptops and mobiles, but even to obtain power from canopies on parking areas and on stadiums."

Professor Motta said the microscope was equipped with sensitive surface probes, including two kinds of atomic force microscopes, an X-ray electron spectrometer and an electron microscope.

Samples used in the microscope can be heated up to 1300C and gases introduced through a special valve system to test how surface atoms react in different environments.

To keep surfaces clean and to observe their atomic composition, the microscope is enclosed in a stainless steel evacuated vessel, where the pressure is similar to that found in outer space.

QUT researchers also will be using the microscope to create a new class of solar-powered nano-sensors capable of detecting pollution and monitoring the environment in remote areas.

The new microscope will be officially unveiled on November 24 at Gardens Point campus.

The microscope, which received $800,000 in funding from the Australian Research Council, will be managed within the QUT-based Australian Microscopy and Microanalysis Research Facility Linked Laboratory.

Professor Motta said scientists from a consortium of universities that helped fund the microscope would use it for research, including Flinders University, the University of Queensland, Griffith University and Roma Tor Vergata University in Italy.

The microscope will be moved to QUT's $230 million Science and Engineering Centre when it opens in 2012.

hat: Official unveiling of Ultra-High Vacuum and Scanning Probe Microscope
When: Thursday, November 24, 10.30am to 2pm
Where: QUT Gardens Point Campus, Old Government House and R-Block
Info: If interested in attending, please RSVP at 3138 1150

####

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Media contact:
Stephanie Harrington
QUT
media officer
61 3138 1150

Copyright © Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

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