Scientists from MIT have engineered a colorful breakthrough, crafting organic molecules that could amplify the tech in your TV and power solar cells of the future. In a study in Nature Chemistry, researchers led by chemistry professor Robert Gilliard have developed organic molecules called acenes that span a spectrum of colors, potentially revolutionizing the realm of light-emitting diodes and energy harvesters, according to an article in MIT News.
Known for their semiconductor capabilities, these carbon ring chains have always been tricky to stabilize as they grow in size—longer ones tend to be more fickle and degrade under light or air exposure. Yet, MIT chemists claim to have discovered a way to extend their shelf life by crafting molecules that shine brightly from red to blue. "What we tried to address in this study first was the stability problem, and second, we wanted to make compounds where you could have a tunable range of light emission," told MIT News Robert Gilliard, leading the study's charge.
Acenes are essentially benzenes linked end-to-end. By doping these with boron and nitrogen, their electronic properties are enhanced, though they commonly emit only blue light and are irritatingly unstable. Gilliard's team has countered this by adding carbodicarbenes to the mix, which, when bonded with boron and nitrogen-infused acenes, yield a positively charged, more stable molecule capable of conjuring a diverse color palette. Under the novel method, red light, widely sought after for its imaging potential in medical fields, can now be part of this organic molecular medley.
"Red emission is very important for wide-ranging applications, including biological applications like imaging," Gilliard remarked to MIT News. In need of being notoriously temperamental in water, the newly engineered acenes defy odds by maintaining their composure both in air and aquatic environments—a significant stride for their potential application in both medical imaging and as robust, efficient solar cells.
The implications of this research are wide and varied—the team has its sights on constructing even more durable and efficient acenes by tinkering with different carbodicarbenes. Moreover, MIT's Gilliard is gearing up to collaborate with electrical engineering professor Marc Baldo on integrating these sturdier acenes into high-performance solar cells capable of doubling the electric output from a single photon—an innovation that may well send current energy efficiencies through the roof.
Echoing the sentiment of MIT's breakthrough, deputy director of the Institute of Chemistry at the Academia Sinica in China, Tiow-Gan Ong, underscored the significance of this work. In light-emitting materials and miniature energy harvesting devices, this approach "certainly paves a promising path toward the development of highly air- and photo-stable," he lauded the achievement.
With funding from esteemed entities like the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation and the National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation Program, the landscape of sustainable technology may soon bask in a brand new light—quite literally.