Melding solar and nano tech

Eminent scientist Albert Polman has dedicated his life to the technology of small things: the world of nanoscience. With a focus on photovoltaics (a method of converting solar energy into direct-current electricity) and the use of nanoscience in solar energy, Polman’s work is likely to have a major impact on our daily lives. Professor Polman previously headed a foundation at the AMOLF research laboratory in Amsterdam, and currently leads a scientific group working on photovoltaics there. 

Alongside Japan and the USA, the Netherlands is one of the top three countries in nanotechnology research and innovation. The driving force behind this excellence in Amsterdam is a healthy ecosystem created by the collaboration between the government, universities, research institutes and commercial sector. But as Polman is quick to point out, it all comes down to the people drawn to this location: “Why do people come here? Because it’s Amsterdam; it’s the city itself.”

Collaborating on solar research

Solardam is Amsterdam’s network of solar collaborators. Its aim is to make solar panels a more efficient and cheaper source of energy. Solardam, also led by Albert Polman, has quickly become home to more than 100 international researchers from the fields of physics, chemistry and biology. It is also the base of AMOLF, one of the leading nanophotonics institutes in Europe. Another partner is the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands, the country’s largest energy-research institute. American researcher Dr Mark Knight, a postdoctoral researcher at Solardam, promises that the consortium’s collaborative research will have a great environmental impact, both at home and abroad. 

Writing at nano scales

Another Amsterdam-based initiative that’s helping to drive the nanotechnology industry forward is the Advanced Research Centre for Nanolithography, or ARCNL. Forged out of a collaboration between four prominent Amsterdam institutions, ARCNL focuses on the fundamental physics involved in key technologies in nanolithography, the art and science of microscopic etching, writing and printing. As with most things nano in Amsterdam, Polman is also at the forefront of this group’s ground-breaking work. ARCNL was created in response to the needs of the Dutch photolithography giant company ASML, which reached out to the Dutch scientific community for help in solving one of the fundamental challenges of nanoscience: how to create the tools needed to ensure long-term innovation in the field. ARCNL today functions as an independent research institute, housing about 100 Dutch and international researchers. Their breakthroughs will shape the technology behind everything from computers and smartphones to vehicles and household devices.


First published in AMS business magazine. Author: Douglas Heingartner