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  • Credit: National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health.
  • A probe tip contacting a Si wire-array solar cell for measurement under a solar simulator, to determine the cell's efficiency.
  • The first retinal implant made at Caltech.
10/14/2010 07:00:00

Caltech Researchers Honored with Breakthrough Awards

At a ceremony in New York City on October 5, Popular Mechanics honored the recipients of its Breakthrough Innovator Awards, including four Caltech researchers—Harry Atwater, Michael Kelzenberg, Nate Lewis, and Yu-Chong Tai. The awards are in recognition of "innovators and products poised to change the world."

Harry Atwater, the Howard Hughes Professor and professor of applied physics and materials science, Michael Kelzenberg, a postdoctoral scholar in applied physics, and Nate Lewis, the George L. Argyros Professor and professor of chemistry, have been selected for their work creating ultra-efficient thin-film solar cells that may revolutionize solar technology. 

In standard photovoltaic panels, more than half of the silicon acting as a semiconductor is wasted, but these new cells, composed of silicon microwires surrounded by light-scattering particles, use only 1 percent of the silicon as standard PV while absorbing 90 percent of the light that hits them.

Yu-Chong Tai, professor of electrical engineering and mechanical engineering, has been awarded along with a team of researchers for his work on the Argus II retinal implant, which is designed to restore vision to people who are blind because of degenerative retinal diseases. The device takes images from an external video camera and sends electric signals to an array implanted in the eye, bypassing damaged photoreceptors to kick-start retinal cells that are still viable.

"From soccer balls that generate light to cell phones that diagnose medical conditions, our diverse, inspired winners are making the seemingly impossible a reality," said James B. Meigs, editor-in-chief of Popular Mechanics. To read more about the awards, go to Popular Mechanics online.

Written by Allison Benter