National Nuclear Security Administration

Visible Light: Eye-opening research at NNSA

October 17, 2018

You are here

NNSA uses visible light to complete its missions.
An artist’s rendition of double-pane quantum dot solar windows from Los Alamos National Laboratory.
An artist’s rendition of double-pane quantum dot solar windows from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The entire rainbow of radiation observable to the human eye only makes up a tiny portion of the electromagnetic spectrum – about 0.0035 percent. This range of wavelengths is known as visible light.

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory are illuminating solar power possibilities with specialized window coatings that efficiently absorb and convert the light passing through them into electricity.

The high-tech windows are double-paned with layers of quantum dots. These nanoparticles can be fine-tuned to absorb specific wavelengths, thus increasing efficiency and decreasing the cost of collecting energy from sunlight. They also offer shading and insulation.

A rather colorful discovery has also been made by scientists at Sandia National Laboratories. They have created a light-mixing “metamaterial” that can generate 11 waves of light ranging from the near infrared, through the colors of the rainbow, to ultraviolet.

Wide-ranging research at NNSA spans the spectrum.

Sandia National Laboratory researchers made a material that mixes two lasers to produce 11 colors
Sandia National Laboratory researchers made a material that mixes two lasers to produce 11 colors

A metamaterial is made up of tiny, repeating structures that interact with electromagnetic waves in ways conventional materials cannot.

In the experiment, the team selected two lasers with wavelengths tuned to the metamaterial’s resonant frequencies, or optimum wavelengths, and passed them through an array of nanocylinders to mix them. The lasers bounced around inside the nanocylinders and created the 11 colors simultaneously.

Research at NNSA spans the entire electromagnetic spectrum – take a look at findings at other frequencies and how they help further the missions of the Nuclear Security Enterprise.