Nanotechnologist Winnie Ye has seen the light. Or at least the light particles.
Ye studies devices that use photons – particles of light – rather than electrons to communicate and process information. Photonics is revolutionizing a wide range of technologies.
“Light is everywhere,” says Ye. “We get it from the sun, from light bulbs, from lasers and many other places. The application of my research ranges over solar energy, telecommunication, computing, and biomedical sensing.”
While her team has been doing some exciting work on silicon chips used for telecommunications applications, they also have been at the forefront of improvements in the energy conversion of photovoltaic cells, otherwise known as solar energy panels.
“What intriguing about my research is that I work with both visible and invisible light wavelengths,” she says. Expanding solar energy conversion beyond the visible spectrum allows more of the suns energy to be converted into usable power.
Solar energy faces many challenges, from the unevenness of energy production to the efficiency of energy conversion. Each technological advance, though, makes solar a more viable component of a renewable power source model.
In addition to improving solar power generation, Ye would also like to see the full commercialization of silicon photonics and for telecommuncation, computing and sensing.
“The individual building blocks are all there, except an efficient silicon-based laser source,” she says. “One of our holy grails would be the discovery of a silicon laser that works at room temperature. With the availability of such a laser source, we could connect all the other data transmission and processing components to complete a highly compact and efficient system.”