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New building's glass patterns inspired by nanotechnology research

Published: 
11 December 2007

The fractal patterns which adorn the glass panels of the University of Southampton's new Mountbatten Building were inspired by optical nanotechnology research in the University's School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS), and Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC).

This research is being applied to create new optoelectronic devices which could enhance optical communications or greatly reduce the cost of solar energy.

The £55 million building, currently under construction and due for completion in July 2008, will provide a world-class facility that will allow ECS and the ORC to make further contributions in these exciting areas of research.

The fractals, which form an ornamental design on the glass of the new building, are inspired by research into optical metamaterials, conducted by Dr Darren Bagnall and Dr Adrian Potts at the University's School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS), working with Professor Nikolay Zheludev of the ORC.

"By drawing features that are much smaller than the wavelength of light, photons can be confused into doing things they normally wouldn't do," said Dr Bagnall. "The chiral fractal structures when etched into glass at the nanoscale were shown to produce very unusual polarisation changes. By using similar technologies to produce other types of nanostructured arrays on the surfaces of solar cells we could also ensure that optical asymmetries are created that prevent light from escaping the solar cells."

According to Dr Bagnall the light-trapping technologies could reduce the thickness of expensive semiconductor materials needed in solar panels, and this could directly reduce the cost of the devices. The first challenge is to prove that the technology works in practice, the second key challenge will be to develop cost-effective ways to produce nanopatterned layers.

The research will continue in the new Mountbatten Building. The state-of-the-art, interdisciplinary facility designed specifically to meet the long-term research needs of the School of Electronics and Computer Science and the Optoelectronics Research Centre, contains a large purpose-built clean room and associated laboratories, along with offices and meeting space.

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