New 3-D photonic crystal opens new avenues for solar cells, lasers

Researchers at the University of Illinois have demonstrated the first optoelectronically active 3-D photonic crystal, a finding that could open new avenues for solar cells, lasers, metamaterials and more.

“We”ve discovered a way to change the three-dimensional structure of a well-established semiconductor material to enable new optical properties while maintaining its very attractive electrical properties,” said Paul Braun, a professor of materials science and engineering and of chemistry who led the research effort.

Photonic crystals are materials that can control or manipulate light in unexpected ways thanks to their unique physical structures. Photonic crystals can induce unusual phenomena and affect photon behavior in ways that traditional optical materials and devices can”t. They are popular materials of study for applications in lasers, solar energy, LEDs, metamaterials and more.

The Illinois team”s photonic crystal has both properties.

With our approach to fabricating photonic crystals, there”s a lot of potential to optimize electronic and optical properties simultaneously,” said Erik Nelson, a former graduate student in Braun”s lab who now is a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University.

“It gives you the opportunity to control light in ways that are very unique to control the way it”s emitted and absorbed or how it propagates,” added Nelson.

The study has been detailed in the journal Nature Materials.

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