Beaverton boy lauded for solar cell invention

Beaverton boy lauded for solar cell invention »Play Video


Since posted this story, there have been many questions about the research by William Yuan. Some have even questioned whether he copied the research of others and claimed it as his own.

That is far from the case. Yuan fully documented all of his sources and never tried to imply that he invented the 3D solar cell. He did create a new type of 3D solar cell that works for visible and UV light. If that was not made clear in the story, that is our fault.

We should note that Yuan based his research on some ground-breaking, graduate-level work on 3D solar cells done at Georgia Tech and Notre Dame. He also had help from professional mentors at Portland State University's Center for Nanofabrication and Electron Microscopy, Applied Materials Inc., and the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of California - Berkeley.

For two years, Yuan researched the other scientists' work and came up with his own unique design that is supposed to work for visible and UV light. Other research focused on one or the other, but he combined the two and also, it appears, made them more efficient and powerful.

Here's a quote from the Davidson Institute For Talent Development, which gave him the scholarship:

"In his project, 'A Highly-Efficient 3-Dimensional Nanotube Solar Cell for Visible and UV Light,' William invented a novel solar panel that enables light absorption from visible to ultraviolet light. He designed carbon nanotubes to overcome the barriers of electron movement, doubling the light-electricity conversion efficiency. William also developed a model for solar towers and a computer program to simulate and optimize the tower parameters. His optimized design provides 500 times more light absorption than commercially-available solar cells and nine times more than the cutting-edge, three dimensional solar cell."

We hope this clears up any confusion.

- Staff and Susan Harding

BEAVERTON, Ore. – A new invention could revolutionize solar energy – and it was made by a 12-year-old in Beaverton.

Despite his age, William Yuan has already studied nuclear fusion and nanotechnology, and he is on his way to solving the energy crisis.

It all started with Legos - after he learned nanotechnology to make robots take off. The seventh grader then got an idea inspired by the sun.

"Solar it seems underused, and there are only a few problems with it," Yuan said.

Encouraged by his Meadow Park Middle School science teacher, the 12-year-old developed a 3D solar cell.

"Regular solar cells are only 2D and only allow light interaction once," he said.

And his cell can absorb both visible and UV light.

"I started to realize I was actually onto something," Yuan said.

At first, he couldn't believe his calculations.

"This solar cell can't be generating this much electricity, it can't be absorbing this much extra light," he recalled thinking.

If he is right, solar panels with his 3D cells would provide 500 times more light absorption than commercially-available solar cells and nine times more than cutting-edge 3D solar cells.

"Which would make solar energy actually a viable energy source for the Pacific Northwest," Yuan said.

While college students have come up with unusual solar cars and the state of Oregon recently unveiled solar panels to power highway lights, Yuan is thinking global.

"It'll have a really positive impact on society and the environment," he said.

His next step is to get a manufacturer and market it.

Yuan is flying out to Washington D.C. on Monday to accept a $25,000 scholarship for his research. He earned the Davidson Fellow award, which is for those 18 and under.