ITMO University together with the University of Texas at Dallas applied for a megagrant to create the first of its kind laboratory in Russia for research into organic-inorganic materials with integrated nanophotonic structures which could change the world. This grant was won in late September and could mean a breakthrough in St. Petersburg for improving materials for solar panels.

It wasn’t until not so long ago that no one really knew anything about hybrid perovskites and particularly its potential replacement of silicon solar cells. In fact, many people probably still know very little about this discovery. This revolutionary material can turn sunlight light into electricity and after substantial research over the last few years, the power conversion efficiency of perovskites is already comparable to semiconductors in the low-20% range. The efficiency of perovskites are improving rapidly, and this is in part due to the flexibility of the material, as different chemical compositions can be experimented with by scientists that might convert electricity differently.

Sergei Makarov, a post doctoral fellow at the International Research Centre for Nanophotonics and Metamaterials believes that "if perovskites achieve the effectiveness of semiconductors, they will replace silicon alternatives from the market due to the low cost of producing this technology. LEDs will be so cheap and compact that the world around us will change beyond recognition".

What makes pervoskites so magical, is the excitons writhing within them. Excitons are quasiparticles that exist in inorganic semiconductors usually at temperatures close to absolute zero. Excitons are particularly necessary for optoelectronic devices because they pass through without much interaction with oncoming particles. They literally travel through the crystal without breaking it. In hybrid perovskites, excitons aren’t released because of the high binding energy, which is one of the obstacles in the research right now. Sergei Makarov jokingly calls them "workhorses" that will perform a key role in the operation of all optoelectronic devices. Since perovskites are only released at really cold temperatures, this challenge needs to be overcome in order to use this material in home devices and gadgets. If it is solved then we won’t need to use oil anymore and everything can be based on LEDs, and before you know it, TVs will appear in front of us as though from nothing.

Mr. Makarov says "We really need these materials, as we'll soon have to rely on alternative power sources — especially solar power. The oil won't last forever. Also, perovskites combined with metamaterials will be then used as highly efficient LEDs. So, I'm absolutely sure that our laboratory will become a center for the best researchers in the optoelectronics field"

All of these breakthroughs will take place in ITMO’s new lab, for researching further into organic-inorganic materials. The lab will require special equipment that will need to be chosen carefully so that it is used consistently and effectively and so that expensive equipment won’t sit idle. The lab will also need to have special conditions as perovskite is unstable in the air and literally falls part due to interaction with water molecules that are trying to integrate into the crystal lattice and destroy it. Mr. Makarov further explains that "we need dry conditions, with the ability to work in an argon atmosphere. There also needs to be a fine-tuned in-house production cycle, from applying thin layers of perovskites and coating additional electrode layers over them for immediately creating cells and devices based on them. As a result we will have new solar elements and LEDs coming out of our lab." Thanks to this grant, and new lab, the possibility of improved solar efficiency is closer to us than it has ever been before.

All our research and efforts will need lots of new bright talented researchers with the desire to make this world better. We hope to attract both Russian and International scientists to work on this project. We are already collaborating with the University of Texas in Dallas. Some young scientists have already been attracted by our Fellowship program, many of whom emigrated from Russia. The new lab is an opportunity to bring back the "brains" home.

As Mr. Makarov pointed out, "Many researchers are interested in the area, in both metamaterials and its application in photovoltaics and light emitting diodes. It’s exciting to work in this field as it includes both fundamental and applied issues. We have big ambitions, to publish in high level journals such as Nature, Advanced Materials, Nano Letters and others"