GOLDEN - Scientists have found that "quantum dots" assemble themselves on minuscule wires, a discovery that could lead to improving solar cell harvesting and quantum computing in the future, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.

"Quantum dots" are tiny crystals of semiconductive material - in this case with a core of gallium arsenide - that is a few billionths of a meter in diameter. At such a small size, the dots exhibit beneficial behaviors of quantum physics, such as forming electron-hole pairs and harvesting excess energy, according to a press release from NREL.

The dots could be used to charge converters for better light harvesting in photovoltaic solar cells, the press release said. They also could be used to detect local electric and magnetic fields.

A team of scientists working on the project came from universities and labs in Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and the United States. Jun-Wei Luo, a senior scientist at NREL, was a co-author of the paper that discussed the project, "Self-Assembled Quantum Dots on a Nanowire System for Quantum Photonics." The paper appears in the current issue of the scientific journal Nature Materials.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. It is run by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy LLC for the Department of Energy.