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New transparent solar panels could be used as windows

A clear piece of glass compared to the transparent solar cell.

The sun keeps pounding out energy and meanwhile, I'm paying a monthly energy bill like a sucker. Fortunately, researchers at UCLA have developed a transparent solar panel that could be used as a home window.

"Probably not sufficient to power the whole house, but the idea is to turn all the windows in the house or buildings so they become solar panels to generate electricity," says Prof. Yang Yang at UCLA. He says other solar panels are too dark. It would be like your house wearing sunglasses. The breakthrough here is that you can see right through these new panels.

"Our plastic is actually a transparent because it only picks up the light in the infrared part," says Yang. That's the part our eyes can't detect.

Paul Weiss of the California NanoSystems Institute worked on the project and says that in order to harness solar power while staying transparent, the panels, our future windows, use invisible silver. Weiss says, "What really Yang's group came up with and we helped a little bit was a way to make silver into a very tiny wires that remain sufficiently clear that you can see through them, but sufficiently conducting that we can still pull the electrons out."

The panels are not at your hardware store yet but they're expected to be inexpensive when they arrive.

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Tonight, I'm reading a book before bed instead of going online. I don't want to get depressed. See, I know about the hamsters.

Tracy Bedrosian is part of a research team at Ohio State.

Tracy Bedrosian: We exposed hamsters to very dim light at night, over four weeks, and then we tested them for depressive responses in standard rodent depressive tests, and we also looked at the brain for signs of depression there.

Moe: And you saw it?

Bedrosian: We did. So, hamsters that were exposed to this chronic light at night showed more depressive responses in a couple different behavior tests, and they showed structural changes to a region of the brain called the hippocampus, which has been heavily implicated in major depressive order in humans.

Moe: Here’s a question I never thought I’d ask: How can you tell if hamster is depressed?

Bedrosian: To give you an example, in one of the tests of depression, we measure floating time in a swim test, and hamsters with light at night spent 10 times as long floating compared to those with dark nights.

Bedrosian says the study backs up some chemistry we already knew.

Bedrosian: We've known for a long time that having a lot of exposure to light before bedtime or during the night can suppress the secretion of a hormone called melatonin, and that helps your body keep track of time, and without that hormone present at its normal levels, you can disrupt your physiological timekeeping which can have other implications for things like mood.

Moe: How similar is a hamster to a person, how similar are the brains hamster to person?

Bedrosian: Of course it's hard because hamsters are nocturnal, humans are not. However, the hormone I was speaking about, melatonin, is secreted during the night in both humans and hamsters. It's very similar physiology.

Turn those screens off at bedtime. Don't be like the depressed hamsters.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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