An interdisciplinary team from the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science discovered that using the data storage pattern from a Blu-ray disc improves solar cell performance. Pictured from left to right are study authors Dongning Guo, Cheng Sun, Chen Wang, Alexander Smith and Jiaxing Huang.

Who knew Blu-ray discs were so useful? Already one of the best ways to store high-definition movies and television shows because of their high-density data storage, Blu-ray discs also improve the performance of solar cells, according to new research from Northwestern.


An interdisciplinary research team discovered that the pattern of information written on a Blu-ray disc improves light absorption across the solar spectrum. And better yet, the researchers know why.


“We had a hunch that Blu-ray discs might work for improving solar cells, and, to our delight, we found the existing patterns are already very good,” said Jiaxing Huang, a materials chemist and an associate professor of materials science and engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. “It’s as if electrical engineers and computer scientists developing the Blu-ray technology have been subconsciously doing our jobs, too.”

Blu-ray discs contain a higher density of data than DVDs or CDs. The discs' quasi-random data-storage pattern, perfected over decades by engineers, also provides the right texture to improve the solar cells’ light absorption and performance.

Working with Cheng Sun, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at McCormick, Huang and his team tested a wide range of movies and television shows stored on Blu-ray discs, including action movies, dramas, documentaries, cartoons and black-and-white content, and found the video content did not matter. All worked equally well for enhancing light absorption in solar cells.

The findings were published Nov. 25 in the journal Nature Communications.

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