Mathematicians Rejoice; Equation Makes Headlines

Child's play.

It’s not every day that an equation makes headlines, but maybe they should more often. After all, in order to plan, model or build just about anything in this world, you have to understand it first. Just throwing things together and hoping it all works out seldom works. I mean sure, Edison just kept trying new metals for the light bulb filament, but it took a hell of a long time to get to tungsten.

Once you have the basics down, you can make a well-informed guess about what combinations of parts or materials will best suit your purpose. It’s the reason why basic science to understand the workings of the universe is so important.

But that’s another post.

This one is about an equation researched and written by Steve Forrest, the William Gould Dow Collegiate Professor of Electrical Engineering and U-M vice president for research. How he can be the VP of research and still have time to conduct research, I have no idea. The truth is, a lot of the work was probably done by his doctoral students, Noel Giebink and Brian Lassiter, and his collaborators at Argonne National Laboratory and Northwestern University.

Anyways, the equation describes the interactions of thin layers of organic materials pressed together in order to create new forms of electronics. The complex interaction of gaps between their structures causes electrons to flow and electric fields to be formed.

Just over 60 years ago, a fellow by the name of William Shokley came up with an equation to describe the relationship between electric current and voltage in inorganic semiconductors. The result was his invention of the transistor and the explosion of the computer age.

Scientists and engineers had been applying this equation for quite some time to organic materials because it fit fairly well. But it wasn’t exact, which has prevented major steps from being taken in a number of fields. Now that they can model these complex interactions, the sky is the limit. Like the computer age, who knows what will now follow. Highly efficient solar cells, thin and intense organic LEDs, and high-efficiency lighting are all potential applications.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the flexible, razor thin solar cell t-shirt that powers the headlamp I use to go spelunking.


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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