Can Amorphous Materials Form Solar Panels?

University of Houston Scientist has been awarded a grant to research the use of amorphous materials. Bill Stamps tells us where the research could lead.

"So we need to make a memory which per given size can contain as much information as possible."

Vassilly Lubchenko is a Ukrainian born  37-year old chemist.  He walks around his University of Houston office wearing shorts,  a t-shirt and flip flops. Not the image you might have of a person who could change the way most of us live our lives. His use of  mathematical formulas might remind you of John Nash: Russel Crowe's character in the movie "A Beautiful Mind."

(sound bite from "A Beautiful Mind")

Nash uses equations in his search for what he calls a 'truly original idea'.  He also suffers from schizophrenia,  but that's where the similarities stop.

With scientific calculations Lubchenko believes we can use amorphous materials to make solar panels. And because those materials are so much cheaper than crystal and silicon, most people would be able to afford to power their homes or offices using solar energy.

"Once they're brought within a reasonable price range then that source of energy can compete with fossil fuel -- with energy that we get from burning fossil fuel like coal or oil."

It took Lubchenko more than a half hour to explain what exactly amorphous materials are. Some types of glass and porcelain are amorphous.  But what they are isn't as important as what they can do. Used in place of silicon Lubchenko says they can make a computer much faster at a fraction of the cost. He says they'll even bring down the cost of robots like "Star Wars' " R2D2 or C-3PO.

"You may have a robot in your apartment that will be very friendly and very helpful and very intelligent. Right now the problem with robots is that they're so expensive.  There is not enough production to keep down the cost"

And that's why those amorphous materials he talks about are so important. Whether it's  computer chips in robots, or solar cells providing electricity, they'll make things faster and cheaper -- and that is Lubchenko's truly original idea we'll all benefit from.

Bill Stamps, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.