Seven years ago, physics professor Latika Mennon’s first graduate student said he wanted to “change the world.” She knew of her expertise in making nanoporous aluminum oxide and believed an analogous system with titanium dioxide, or titania, could be useful in the development of fuel cells and solar panels.
“Aluminum is more like an insulator,” Menon explained. “For solar cells you need semiconductors. Titania is a semiconductor.”
Using simple electrochemical methods, Menon’s team developed a material made of neatly aligned, hollow, titania nanotubes. “It’s an array of tubes,” she said. “Just like lots of cylinders, or test tubes, arranged in parallel.”