June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
Engineering Physics & Physics
15.61.1 - 15.61.9
A Nanotechnology Application for Physics Laboratory Courses
Including current research topics into the curriculum is one strategy to engage students in physics courses. We are piloting some innovative laboratory experiments that incorporate aspects of nanotechnology into photovoltaic solar energy conversion devices.
Students produce working devices using conjugated organic polymers. The fullerene, C60, is used as a nanoscale particle and is suspended in the organic polymer solution. The photoactive thin organic films are spin-coated onto glass substrates. The substrates contain a transparent conductive oxide on the surface that acts as an electric contact. The other electric contact is formed by depositing an appropriate metal onto the organic film.
The experimental techniques and equipment used are of broad interest to the engineering and physics communities. The activities are suitable for undergraduate laboratory courses at a variety of levels. The paper will describe the experiments and include some preliminary results.
The paper is written so that faculty unfamiliar with photovoltaic devices, and in particular thin film organic polymer solar cells, can incorporate this novel laboratory activity into various physics and/or engineering courses. We believe the laboratory activity provides a valuable context for teaching and learning in the areas of nanotechnology, photovoltaics, elementary and advanced topics in direct current circuits, thin films and the interaction of light and matter. We believe that the device fabrication and subsequent analysis is appropriate for a variety of courses including second semester general physics laboratory courses (typically electricity, magnetism and optics) as well as advanced courses in physics, engineering or both.
First, we present a brief introduction of the physics of thin film organic solar cells incorporating the fullerene, C60. The section is not meant to be a comprehensive review but an introduction to the topic so the uninitiated can successfully, with the aid of the references, explain the topic in sufficient detail. Second, we describe the device fabrication techniques so the processes can be reproduced. Some of the trials and tribulations of the fabrication process are briefly discussed. A brief outline of solar cell characterization is presented along with a student exercise in current- voltage measurement interpretation. We include a section describing an estimate of the photovoltaic conversion efficiency of a typical student-fabricated device. Next, we describe how the activity has been incorporated into an upper level solid state device physics course and also into second semester general physics laboratory courses. We believe it could also be used in an appropriate upper level electrical or chemical engineering course. Subsequently, we describe some future plans for the activity which, along with some other curricula, may culminate in the introduction of a stand-alone nanotechnology course and possibly a minor in nanotechnology.
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