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Solar power

Spring 2017

Paths that grew crystal clear

Crystals reflect the best of nature’s handiwork. With their atoms aligned in repeating 3D patterns, crystals can be as momentary as a snowflake or as common as the sodium chloride in table salt. They can sparkle on a finger, scatter rainbows across the room, or be grown on your kitchen table with a few ingredients from the hobby shop.

Some also possess unusual properties, such as quartz crystal’s ability to generate a tiny electrical current when pressure is applied. Known as the piezoelectric effect, this useful phenomenon helped inspire the rise of a global, multibillion dollar crystal growth industry.

Today, manmade crystals power an astonishing … » More …

Better living…through solar

For more than two years, a group of Washington State University students in architecture, construction management, interior design, and engineering designed and built a solar house, including all of its systems, from the ground up. In September 2005, they transported the house to Washington, D.C., to take part in the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition on the National Mall. WSU was one of only 18 schools from around the world-and the only school from the Northwest-to participate. Sponsored by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Lab, the competition required students to plan and build a 650-square-foot home and provide it with all the modern conveniences, including … » More …

Summer 2004

Students to build a complete solar home

A group of students from the School of Architecture and Construction Management at Washington State University will compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon. Over the next two years, the students will design and construct a small, energy-independent home as their entry.

Sponsored by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the competition gives students two years to plan and build a 500- to 800-square-foot house that receives all of its energy needs from the sun. The competition aims to increase public awareness of solar energy and inspire innovative solutions in ecological design. As part of the competition, students have to provide a home with … » More …

Fall 2008

Electricity from a beet

Chemists around the world are looking to the plant kingdom for ideas about harvesting the energy of sunlight. Plants, after all, have been making a living exploiting sunbeams for almost four billion years. And part of what plants accomplish each day creates a tiny flow of electrons—a form of electricity.

The familiar solar-electric panels on the roofs of RVs depend on pure silicon crystals, which are produced in an energy-intensive manufacturing process. The crystals are semiconductors “doped” with special impurities to make them work—impurities that are often toxic metals requiring special mining to unearth. These first-generation panels certainly work, but the electrical power we can … » More …