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The next big thing in solar cells might just be an old Jackie Chan movie. Researchers from Northwestern University describe in a new paper how patterns on the surface of Blu-ray discs are just about perfect for improving the efficiency of solar cells. Efficiency of solar panels can be improved by breaking up sunlight just before it hits, ensuring an even exposure across the whole photo-sensitive surface. Some printed patterns to break up the light work better than others — and it turns out that the pattern of 1s and 0s in which video data is burned onto Blu-ray discs performed better than any other.

A surface partly covered by the Blu-ray pattern that shows how it diffuses light (as shown by the rainbow gradient).Jiaxing Huang / Northwestern University

The researchers' first test was using the 1992 Jackie Chan film "Police Story 3: Supercop," but other movies and shows work just as well because the data is encoded in the same way on the disc — a way that happens to diffuse the light exactly right. "It’s as if electrical engineers and computer scientists developing the Blu-ray technology have been subconsciously doing our jobs, too," said lead study author Jiaxing Huang.



—Devin Coldewey