Bin Hu has a lot on his research plate: organic solar cells and thermoelectrics, magnetically controllable optoelectronics, and multiple functional materials.
Organic solar cells differ from normal solar cells on two counts—they are truly flexible like a plastic film and they can be semi-transparent. Hu and researchers are working on enhancing the longevity and efficiency of this alternative power source. These new and improved solar cells could be integrated with fabric and used to make a camping tent. As part of researching organic solar cells, Hu also looks at thermoelectrics, or how to turn heat into electricity. He’s studying the thermoelectric process to understand how to separately control electrical and thermal conduction towards the generation of electricity by using heat. With an improved understanding, Hu says that thermoelectric materials could be applied to electronic devices, like an iPod or cellular phone that generate heat and turns it into electricity.
Hu also commits time to researching magnetically controllable optoelectronics, calling them “the next-generation materials for renewable energy and detection technologies.” Such materials could have higher efficiencies to generate electricity by combing with magnetic materials. In addition, such materials could have applications in the form of national defense and daily life. The Navy and the Air Force could use magnetically controllable optoelectronics to detect radar from an enemy farther away. Citizens could benefit from optoelectronics because their cellular phones could pick up a weaker signal further away.
Traditionally, materials science looks at combining multiple materials to achieve multiple functions for various applications, but Hu plans to design one material with multiple functions. For example, Hu talks about developing one organic polymer system made of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen for use in magnetic devices (i.e. information storage), electronic devices (i.e. computer chips), and optic devices (i.e. lasers).