This New Solar Cell Is 50 Times Thinner Than a Human Hair

Joel Jean and Anna Osherov/MIT

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


This is really cool: Big brains at MIT recently announced they have created the world’s thinnest and lightest solar cell—so light it can sit atop a soap bubble without breaking it. The world-first design is, however, eye-popping:

  • The new cell is just 1.3 micrometers—one-fiftieth the thickness of a human hair.
  • It is one-thousandth the thickness of an equivalent glass-based solar cell—the ones you are probably most familiar with.
  • Pound for pound, the new cells generate 400 times the power of traditional cells.
  • The cell is made from an incredibly flexible cling wrap-like plastic called “parylene”—potentially giving rise to solar panels stitched invisibly into our everyday lives.

MIT’s design is only lab-tested, for now. Scaling up the invention for commercial use could take years. But the proof-of-concept is already exciting the scientists—professor Vladimir Bulovi?, research scientist Annie Wang, and doctoral student Joel Jean. They are publishing their findings in an upcoming issue of the journal Organic Electronics.

“It could be so light that you don’t even know it’s there, on your shirt or on your notebook,” Bulovi? said in a news release. The release also describes how the scientists came up with an innovative process that grows the “substrate” (the layer the cell is built on) and the solar cell itself— both at the same time.

“How many miracles does it take to make it scalable?” Bulovi? said. “We think it’s a lot of hard work ahead, but likely no miracles needed.”

Joel Jean and Anna Osherov/MIT

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate