Ever looked at the etching of a Blu-ray disc? It's oddly beautiful, refracting light like a rainbow while also offering copious digital storage.
Turns out that pattern isn't just beautiful in the light, it's also useful when it comes to the light. Because the particular structure of a typical Blu-ray disc happens to be one that boosts the light absorbing ability of photovoltaics. That's according to a study in the journal Nature Communications. [Alexander J. Smith, Repurposing Blu-ray movie discs as quasi-random nanoimprinting templates for photon management]
The semi-random pattern of microscopic bumps and indents that store a movie on a Blu-ray disc also helps solar cells absorb light by spreading it around more widely within the cell—where a greater percentage of it is then available to generate a current.
Researchers at Northwestern University made the discovery by transferring the pattern of the Jackie Chan movie Supercop to the top of a plastic solar cell. They found, to their surprise, that the Supercopped solar cell boosted performance by more than 20 percent.
Of course, Supercop is not a special movie, except maybe to hardcore Chan fans. Dramas, documentaries and even cartoons worked just as well. Which means all that Blu-ray disc-making prowess could get applied to a new purpose: clean power.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]
[Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.]