Improving the Efficiency of Solar Cell Technology

Hi everyone! My name is Matt Mendonca and I will be doing summer research in the Chemistry department with Dr. Wustholz. I am a rising junior from Newport News, VA and I look forward to beating the heat of Williamsburg by being cooped up in a dark room shooting a laser at nanoparticles. When I am not busy studying most of the year I love to play soccer, watch movies, and hang out with my brothers in the Delta Chi Fraternity. Since I joined Dr. Wustholz’s research team at the beginning of this spring semester I have learned more than I ever thought possible, yet I’ve also realized that I barely understand a fraction of everything that goes on in the lab. It is very difficult to soak in everything that research has to offer during the school year while taking classes and trying to avoid social irrelevancy, and this is why I look forward to devoting 10 weeks of my summer to mastering my research topic.

My research involves the introduction of silica coated silver nanoparticles into dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) to enhance device efficiency through the improved absorbance capabilities of the solar cell. Thus, no one in my family nor any of my friends have any clue what the heck I’m doing. So let me try to explain… Traditional photovoltaic cells that harness solar energy and convert it to electricity are both inefficient and costly. A novel device, the DSSC, is a type of organic-based solar cell that is theorized to potentially solve these energy problems. However, DSSCs represent a fairly new technology that has yet to be fully explored and thus their present inefficiency limits their commercial marketability.

DSSCs are comprised of a collection of titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanoparticles that have been coated in dye molecules that act as sensitizers to absorb energy radiated from the sun. When a photon of light strikes a dye molecule, an electron becomes excited and transfers to TiO2. This electron then transfers to an electrode, producing a current and the subsequent generation of electricity. In some cases, though, the electron never moves to the electrode and instead returns back to the dye, creating significant inefficiency within the device. Research suggests that this back electron transfer can be overcome by simply improving the absorption of the dye molecules.

The proposed method to improve DSSC absorption includes the addition of silver nanoparticles into the system. These metallic nanoparticles display plasmon resonance, which enhances the dye’s absorption via the increased electromagnetic field created around the photo-excited particles. Through past research, we have come to the conclusion that using silica coated silver nanoparticles will create the necessary separation from the dyes in order to maximize this plasmonic effect. Now that we have been able to successfully synthesize and attach the silica coating to the nanoparticles, we have begun to investigate the effect of the thickness of the particle coating. By the conclusion of our project, we will have determined the ideal silica coating thickness to induce the greatest increase in dye absorption. In theory, this research will result in the production of a more efficient model of the dye-sensitized solar cell.

I hope that at least some of this made sense, but if not then hopefully my future summer blogs will help fill in the blanks. To put it simply, I will basically be playing with a laser and working up data for the whole summer. Can’t wait to read about everyone else’s progress. Good luck!



  1. The Q4 net loss was primarily the result of mandating” solar tours”
    sources. So we expect to sell between 55 million
    and 60 million gallons per year.

  2. Interesting.. I found your blog very informative, I will save it for future reading. 🙂