The science of light and liquids has been intimately entwined since Lon Foucault discovered the speed of light in 1862, when he observed that light travels more slowly in water than in air. This physical harmony between the two materials is now being harnessed to collect and drive light to where it can be the most useful. October's issue of Nature Photonics focuses on optofluidics, the study of microfluidicsthe microscopic delivery of fluids through extremely small channels or tubescombined with optics. In a review written by Demetri Psaltis, Dean of EPFL's School of Engineering, he and his co-authors argue that optofluidics is poised to take on one of this century's most important challenges: energy.
"By directing the light and concentrating where it can be most efficiently used, we could greatly increase the efficiency of already existing energy producing systems, such as biofuel reactors and solar cells, as well as innovate entirely new forms of energy production" explains Psaltis. "EPFL is the world leader in optofluidics, our institution is in a position to develop truly efficient and disruptive energy sources."
Sunlight is already used for energy production besides conventional solar panels. For example, it is used to convert water and carbon dioxide into methane in large industrial biofuel plants. Prisms and mirrors are commonly employed to direct and concentrate sunlight to heat water on the roofs of homes and apartment buildings. These techniques already employ the same principles found in optofluidicscontrol and manipulation of light and liquid transferbut often without the precision offered by nano and micro technology.
A futuristic example: Optofluidic solar lighting system
How can we better exploit the light that hits the outside of a building? Imagine sunlight channelled into the building An optofluidic solar lighting system could capture sunlight from a roof using a light concentrating system tha
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Ecole Polytechnique Fdrale de Lausanne