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Surprising Science

These Solar Cells Literally Rock Out

Researchers used zinc oxide nanorods to create a solar cell, then played music to determine the sound waves’ effect on performance. Pop and rock music bumped up efficiency levels by 40 percent.

What’s the Latest Development?

Researchers at two London universities covered zinc oxide nanorods with a polymer in order to create a working solar cell. They then experimented with the piezoelectric effect — a material’s ability to produce voltage under certain types of pressure or strain — by playing different styles of music with varying pitches to see if it would affect the cell’s power output. With pop and rock music, cell performance increased by 40 percent. In addition, the team saw results with sound levels as low as 75 decibels, which is “equivalent to a typical roadside noise or a printer in an office.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Imperial College photochemistry professor James Durrant says the team didn’t expect the experiment to work at first, in that the randomness of the sound waves’ fluctuations would cancel each other out. However, “not only [did they not] cancel each other out, but also…some frequencies of sound seemed really to amplify the solar cell output – so that the increase in power was a remarkably big effect considering how little sound energy we put in.” A paper describing the experiments was published today (Nov. 6) in Advanced Materials.

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