An international team of scientists led by a University of Pennsylvania professor said Thursday that they've created a unique new fiber thinner than a human hair that can capture energy from the sun and convert it into electricity.

Their research on this new solar cell breakthrough was published this week in a subscriber-only preview available to the readers of the scientific journal Advanced Materials.

"Long, fiber-based solar cells give us the potential to do something we couldn't really do before," Professor John Badding said in a media advisory. "We can take the silicon fibers and weave them together into a fabric with a wide range of applications such as power generation, battery charging, chemical sensing, and biomedical devices."

The breakthrough was achieved using high-pressure chemical vapors to help inject different types of silicon into microscopic pores in optical fiber, creating a flexible thread that reacts just like a standard solar cell.

While the technology does seem to hold promise for the future of mobile electricity generation, it's not clear if the materials can actually be woven into a wearable fabric. Photos of the invention showed a single fiber coiled up, not an actual, foldable tapestry.

Also, one has to wonder whether this type of material might serve to enhance the static electricity on a person's skin. If it does, it could give rise to a whole new generation of pranksters, not to mention all the devices it could power.


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