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Tiny Wires, Great Potential

By Harvard Gazette

July 21, 2015

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Harvard scientists have developed a new type of nanowire that can absorb light at specific wavelengths and also absorb light from other parts of the spectrum.

Bobby Day and Max Mankin, graduate students in the lab of professor Charles Lieber, are calling their research a fundamental discovery. They say the new class of wire will be able to absorb the same amount of infrared light as traditional silicon materials that are 100 times thicker. "Now we can shrink the amount of space a device might take up by having multiple functions in a single wire," Mankin says.

The researchers developed the nanowire with a novel method that takes advantage of the principles of Plateau-Rayleigh instability and crystal growth. They demonstrated the process using several combinations of materials, including silicon and germanium.

The researchers say although there is more to learn about the fundamental properties of the structures, the technology could have applications in areas ranging from consumer electronics to solar panels.

"We will be able to build smaller devices that still maintain high efficiency and, in some cases, will take advantages of new properties that will emerge from this modulation that you don't have in uniform-diameter wires," Mankin says.

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