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Researchers find odd blue molecule that 'violates [a] well-established law of chemistry' — and it could be key to solar power technology

"We're looking at molecules that can absorb and store light energy and they don't waste that energy …"

“We’re looking at molecules that can absorb and store light energy and they don’t waste that energy ..."

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A mysterious molecule so brilliantly blue it would make Walter White proud could hold secrets for boosting solar panel efficiency, reports Popular Mechanics, based on a recent study. 

Researchers from the Czech Republic and Sweden studied the substance, called azulene, which is sometimes used in medicine and skin care and has long interested scientists because of its unusual fluorescent properties.

The research team, led by scientists from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry in Prague, published its work in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in September.

The strange blue molecule "violates [a] well-established law of chemistry" called Kasha's rule that relates to how certain molecules emit light in "excited states." Knowledge of how the renegade azulene can flout the rules may help scientists harness its energy for solar power tech, according to Popular Mechanics.

The new research analyzed how, after azulene reaches an unstable, excited state, it releases its pent-up energy as light (or fluoresces) in a way that's different from most fluorescent molecules. 

The reason may be somewhat complex, but according to the research paper, understanding it "may pave the way for new … materials with long-lived, high-energy excited states."

Finding increasingly sophisticated materials for solar panels has already allowed scientists and engineers to improve this technology over time. 

Popular Mechanics explains how the study of photochemistry — how light affects chemistry — has helped solar panels go from less than 1% efficiency (upon invention) to 47.1% efficiency (in a controlled setting) at converting photons of light into electricity.

Modern solar panels average 16% to 20% efficiency, reports Architectural Digest, citing the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

In the bigger picture, improving solar power technology helps people harness free energy from the sun to make electricity more safely and without creating toxic pollution that traps heat on the planet. 

Clean energy, including solar power, is rapidly growing and overtaking dirty energy sources for electricity generation.

So we might all breathe a little easier thanks to technology — and perhaps hope for additional improvements, such as from substances like a fascinating azure-colored chemical.

"We're looking at molecules that can absorb and store light energy and they don't waste that energy; they can manage it well," Tomáš Slanina, one of the researchers, said in a statement quoted by Popular Mechanics. "They can pass it on as photons of fluorescence or … transfer the energy." 

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