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Professors receive patent on photodetector cell and solar panel 

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Two Texas A&M University-Kingsville professors have obtained a patent on an invention that can generate electricity in a less expensive way.

Dr. Amit Verma and Dr. Reza Nekovei, both electrical engineering and computer science professors at A&M-Kingsville, were granted a patent by the United States Patent Office for a photodetector cell and solar panel with dual metal contacts. 

A solar cell, or photodetector, operates when an external power supply is used to generate power. 

Verma said traditional solar cell and photodetectors are usually developed using intricate and expensive processes.

 “In our case, we have used the difference in the properties of two different metals to set up conditions similar to what would be obtained by using an external power supply or a battery,” he said. “Then, all one needs to do is place some nanowires connecting the two metals, and we have a well operating solar cell or photodetector.”

Verma said their invention can serve two purposes — as an optical switch (or light detector), where current flows through the cell when light is shone upon it and also as a solar cell that generates electricity when sunlight falls on it. 

“This device does not need to consume power to generate power,” Verma said. “The nanowires do not need to be well-aligned too. In fact, they work very well if the nanowires are completely randomly placed. This is a very inexpensive way to develop such optical devices.”

This is the second joint patent the professors have been awarded in this area, Verma said. They have both been recognized at the Texas A&M University System Patent and Innovation Awards Luncheon in 2018 and 2019.

 “This patent represents the culmination of efforts by a group of researchers across three institutions (TAMUK, University of Washington, Qatar University), across 2 countries and 2 continents,” Verma said. “It showcases the strong national and global research collaborative ties that (A&M-Kingsville) is building as faculty continue to make their mark at the cutting edge of science and engineering.”

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