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The Role of Basic Science

solar power

Brookhaven researchers are focusing on new ways to collect solar energy and convert it to more useable forms. Scientists estimate that 600 million megawatts of solar power — equivalent to theoutput of more than a half million typical coal-burning powerplants — could theoretically be captured and used on Earth.

Recent advances in the scientific tools available to researchers have set the stage for fundamental discoveries in the energy arena. These tools themselves are often the result of basic research. In addition, basic research — particularly in the emerging field of nanoscience — can help researchers develop new approaches that transcend the limitations of today’s technologies.

Nanoscience is the study of materials on scales with dimensions of billionths of a meter. It has enormous promise in developing solutions to our energy challenges because the processes of energy production, conversion, and use — from the movement of electrons to the catalysis of reactions that convert energy from one form to another —all occur at the nanoscale. At the nanoscale, materials have vastly different properties from their bulk counterparts. If tapped, these properties may enable breakthrough technologies.

Recent advances in nanoscience tools and facilities — like Brookhaven’s new Center for Functional Nanomaterials —have opened up this frontier of discovery, enabling scientists to fabricate, characterize, and model the behavior of materials at this scale. Such basic research — aimed at understanding the details of these processes and structures — will enable scientists to design/engineer improvements to optimize efficiency and performance across the energy spectrum.