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Materials

Idle Time For Solar Cells

Harvard’s Clean Energy Project harnesses computer downtime to screen candidate organic photovoltaic materials

by Bethany Halford
November 15, 2010 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 88, ISSUE 46

If you’ve ever wanted to help the search for the next generation of solar cells, but didn’t feel you had the scientific chops to do so, now you can pitch in by simply downloading a computer screensaver from clean energy.harvard.edu. When you are not using your computer, chemists from Harvard University will harness the central processing unit (CPU) to churn out computational data on organic photovoltaics that are candidate solar-cell materials. The undertaking, known as the Clean Energy Project, is a joint venture between Alán Aspuru-Guzik’s group and IBM. The project launched Phase I for molecular mechanics calculations in 2008. As of last week, Macintosh computers and PCs that run on Microsoft Windows could start participating in Phase II, which focuses on electronic structure calculations. “This first-principles quantum chemical investigation is performed on the World Community Grid, or WCG,” Aspuru-Guzik explains. “WCG currently has 530,000 members with 1.6 million computers, which altogether provide 180 years of CPU time every day to each of the seven currently active projects.” Clean Energy Project results will be publicly available, he adds, and will “allow for a massive computational screening and design of potential candidate structures at the heart of organic photovoltaic materials.”

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