As Leonardo DiCaprio so rightly put it at the Oscars, climate change is “the most urgent threat facing our species.” This has caused many in the science community to look for more energy which is less toxic to our environment and more sustainable than the fossil fuels we are currently using. Some problems that occur when looking for these ‘green’ alternatives are that they are usually less energy dense, meaning it takes more of the technology to produce the same amount of energy, and they are expensive to build and maintain. A professor at MIT, Vladimir Bulović, is looking to address these problems with his team.
Professor Bulović is the Chair in Emerging Technology and the MIT School of Engineering’s Associate Dean for Innovation. His job description essentially boils down to being as creative as possible to solve today’s scientific problems. One of his most recent innovations came in the form of the thinnest and lightest solar cells ever made. While light and flexible cells have been made before, these cells are capable of producing 6 watts of power per gram, which is about 400 times the energy density of standard glass-covered solar cells. That is a substantial difference. They can also be placed on the surface of a bubble without it bursting, which is pretty cool. Gardner defines divergent thinking as solving a puzzle in a manner in which the person creates many different, possibly unique, associations (p. 20). This is exactly what Bulović and his team, whom he credits for helping him through consistent bouncing of ideas, have done in the field of alternative energy.
Bulović and his team at MIT took a new approach in creating their power cell which they give credit for this remarkable result. They produced the substrate (the supporting layer) and the protective top layer at the same time, all but eliminating the time in which the cell can be contaminated or damaged (both of which would result in a decrease in energy density). This is a completely new method as most power cells have the substrate and the device created at separate times, then handled separately (increasing the likelihood of damage or contamination).
This study could have enormous implications in sustainable energy production. It can be used in a range of technology, from solar powered cell phones to extremely lightweight wearables. However, Bulović and his team have yet to use materials used in consumer goods yet to test these theories so it is somewhat unsure that the results will be exactly the same. Professor Bulović is confident that the results will carry over regardless of the material used and we should all be hoping he is correct.
Creating Minds by Howard Gardner