Most inventions don’t have a wide scope of uses. They’re somewhat specialized, with a particular goal or focus to achieve. But every once in a while, engineers come up with an idea that can be used in numerous ways and for a plethora of purposes. Scientists at the University of California San Diego have done just this, and invented a material with seemingly endless applications.
The material is thin, lightweight, and — most importantly — has a truly impressive ability to absorb light. It has almost an 87% absorption rate when it comes to near-infrared light, and can absorb 98% of light at a distance of 1,550 nanometers. If that seems like an oddly specific distance, think again: it’s the wavelength for fiber optic communications. Unlike other materials, this one — which has been appropriately dubbed a near-perfect broadband absorber — can take in light from any angle.
Scientists created this remarkable material thanks to the wonder of nanoparticles. By moving around the number of free electrons, they discovered that they could adjust the surface plasmon resonance (the collective movements of the aforementioned free electrons) to different light wavelengths. This gave them the power to adjust the material to absorb whatever type of light they wanted.
The material itself is made with nanofabrication technologies, which allowed the material to be built up one atomic layer at a time. In standing nanotubes, concentric layers of zinc oxide and aluminum-doped zinc oxide were assembled. The results were a thin and flexible material that easily can absorb any type of light on the spectrum.
The applications for such a material are hard to summarize; scientists and engineers are already planning how to best utilize this new invention. Devices with triple the solar cell efficiencies, windows that absorb light and provide protection to the people indoors, and shields that block from thermal detection are just a few ideas scientists are working on. The versatility of the material makes it the perfect tool for numerous designs and inventions, and mass production is the next logical step.