Not only are these gold nanoparticles gorgeous to look at – they may one day act as microscopic powerhouses for molecular machines. Researchers at the Nano/Bio Interface Center at the University of Pennsylvania recently discovered a novel to way to generate solar power by shining light onto gold nanoparticles. The discovery has far-reaching implications in the realm of nanotechnology, and may open the door for everything from self-powering molecular circuits to super-efficient data storage.
To generate current the researchers first packed a bunch of light-sensitive gold nanoparticles together on a glass substrate and then exposed them to optical radiation (light). This knocks conductive electrons free from the gold particles, which run along the surface to create surface plasmons, which in turn induce an electrical current across the molecules.
The amount of electricity generated is minute, but the researchers believe that by optimizing size, shape, and orientation of the nanparticles they could create a current strong enough to power nano-sized circuits. Professor Bonnell, who participated in the experiment, said “If the efficiency of the system could be scaled up without any additional, unforeseen limitations, we could conceivably manufacture a 1A, 1V sample the diameter of a human hair and an inch long“.