12-year-old Revolutionizes the Solar Cell

Geek Culture

William YuanWilliam Yuan
William Yuan, a seventh-grader from Portland, OR, developed a three-dimensional solar cell that absorbs UV as well as visible light. The combination of the two might greatly improve cell efficiency. William’s project earned him a $25,000 scholarship and a trip to the Library of Congress to accept the award, which is usually given out for research at the graduate level.

“Current solar cells are flat and can only absorb visible light,” he said. “I came up with an innovative solar cell that absorbs both visible and UV light. My project focused on finding the optimum solar cell to further increase the light absorption and efficiency and design a nanotube for light-electricity conversion efficiency.”

You know, that’s just what I was thinking when I was 12, but my idea didn’t quite work. Well, it was just a paper towel roll with "Solar Rays" written on the side in Sharpie, and I tried to use it to melt G.I. Joe figures. But still. Well done, William!

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UPDATE: Two great comments were posted below, but to save you from scrolling all the way down:

From Kirk Englehardt, Director of Communication at Georgia Tech Research Institute:

Thank you for sharing this very interesting story. There is, however, a clarification that needs to be added.

The 3D solar cell was invented several years ago at the Georgia Tech Research Institute by our team of world-class scientists and engineers.

The Georgia Tech Research Institute (www.gtri.gatech.edu) has been making 3D solar cell prototypes of this design since 2004. You can read about the work in our April 2007 news release online. Our work has patents pending in the US and abroad. We have also published our research widely in an number of highly regarded research journals including the Journal of Applied Physics, Journal of Materials and Carbon.

The 3D Solar Cell has the potential to be breakthrough in the solar industry. The global and exclusive license to the 3D Solar Cell intellectual property is held by IP2BIZ in Atlanta. The license is currently for sale to any firm that can further develop, manufacture and bring it to market.

It is wonderful to see a student taking a real interest in science and math. We are also happy to hear of William’s interest in 3D solar cells. We encourage him to contact the Georgia Tech Research Institute so he may be connected with our lead researcher (Dr. Jud Ready), who would love for him to visit our laboratories to see how we create our photovoltaic cells. Who knows – maybe William can contribute to our groundbreaking work.

For additional information about this work simply Google "3D Solar Cell"

And from Susan Harding:

I interviewed William for my story on KATU-TV. I want to clarify some information. William researched 3D solar cells for two years, as his own personal homework assignment. He took research from Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, and a nanotechnology lab at PSU and then enhanced, modified and improved the technology. Experts with the Davidson scholarship reviewed his work as well as local professors.
And no, he’s not homeschooled.
He goes to a unique public school where they have a special program called Summa. It’s for kids who are in the 99th percentile in BOTH reading and math.

I have to tell you, when I talked with him I felt like I was talking with a 30 year old professor, he’s so intelligent. Plus, I hear, he’s a great kid and I have no doubt, he’ll make a wonderful contribution to the world.

Thanks to Kirk and Susan, and to everyone who posted constructive comments.

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