The great side about physics is that it discovers things where you would least expect them to be found. For example, just when you thought you knew everything about light, here comes an exciting new discovery that could become an alternative source of power, involving the magnetic properties of light!
Besides having electric components, light also has magnetic ones. Not that researchers didn’t know this before, but they simply didn’t care much about it: the magnetic field appeared to be insignificant.
Researchers at the University of Michigan took a second look and what they found was impressive: the magnetic effects were not twice, not three times, but 100 million times stronger. This means that, under the right conditions, the magnetic field would match the strength of a powerful electric effect.
This find could very well revolutionize the way solar cells are built: they would not so much rely on photons to produce electricity, but on their magnetization capacity. The process would become so much simpler: lenses to focus the light and fiber to conduct it, a good candidate material being the glass.
For all of the physics savvy readers, here’s the cherry on top of the cake: the researchers also stumbled upon a new type of “optical rectification.” So far, only crystalline materials offered the kind of symmetry needed to separate the positive and negative charges. This breakthrough shows other types of materials that can help the magnetic field operate an optical rectification.
Unfortunately, we shouldn’t be too excited for now: the sunlight is not sufficiently intense to be focused through non-conducting materials, but don’t give up: researchers hope to find new materials that would allow lower intensities to be used in the process.