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Nanotechnology

An interview with Harry Atwater: Nanostructures for high-efficiency photovoltaics

The future of large-scale PV is likely to bring development of inexpensive thin film and nanostructured devices and processes. This video interview with the person who coined the term "plasmonics" explores the prospects -- and the urgency -- for developing new photovoltaic approaches.
6 October 2008, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.3200809.0001

Photovoltaics (PV) technology is enjoying substantial growth and investment owing to worldwide sensitivity to the long-term importance of renewable energy. There are many options, but the key performance metric is the cost per Watt of PV-generated electricity. While solar cells are semiconductor devices like integrated circuits, the processing cost/area must be several orders of magnitude less expensive than for microelectronic integrated circuit chip processing. Thus while most current solar cell manufacturing is done with crystalline silicon wafers, the future of large-scale PV is likely to bring development of inexpensive thin film and nano-structured devices and processes. In this interview for SPIE Newsroom, Harry Atwater discusses new approaches to ultrahigh efficiency thin film multi-junction solar cells, semiconductor nanowire-based solar cells and plasmonic structures for enhanced light absorption that open up new design approaches to very thin photovoltaic devices.

Harry Atwater is Howard Hughes Professor and Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science at the California Institute of Technology. Atwater received his S.B. (1981), S.M. (1983), and Ph.D. (1987) in Electrical Engineering from MIT. His research interests center around photovoltaics, nanophotonics, and photoelectrochemical devices for solar fuel production. He is an early pioneer in surface plasmon photonics; he gave the name to the field of plasmonics in 2001; developments in this field were recently featured in his article about plasmonics in the May 2007 of Scientific American.

Professor Atwater has consulted extensively for industry and government, and has actively served the materials community in various capacities, including Materials Research Society Meeting Chair (1997), Materials Research Society President (2000), AVS Electronic Materials and Processing Division Chair (1999). In 2001 he served as a Gordon Conference Chair, and in 2008 he will serve as Chair for the Gordon Research Conference on Plasmonics. He currently serves as Director of Caltech’s Center for Science and Engineering of Materials (an NSF MRSEC; www.csem.caltech.edu), and is also Director of the Caltech Center for Sustainable Energy Research (www.ccser.caltech.edu). He serves on the Director’s Review Committee, Chemistry and Materials Science Division, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; and the Board of Trustees, Gordon Research Conferences. He has served on the Department of Energy, Office of Science, Division of Materials Sciences Visiting Committee; Stanford Univ. Department of Materials Science and Engineering Visiting Committee; National Science Foundation Division of Materials Research Visiting Committee. Atwater is founder and chief technical advisor for Aonex Corp.

Atwater has received numerous awards including the Joop Los Fellowship from the Dutch Society for Fundamental Research on Matter, 2005; AT&T Foundation Award, 1990; NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award, 1989; IBM Faculty Development Award, 1989-1990; Member, Bohmische Physical Society, 1990; IBM Postdoctoral Fellowship, 1987.