In the race to make solar cells cheaper and more efficient, many researchers and start-up companies are betting on new designs that exploit nanostructures -- materials engineered on the scale of a billionth of a meter. Using nanotechnology, researchers can experiment with and control how a material generates, captures, transports, and stores free electrons -- properties that are important for the conversion of sunlight into electricity.

"We initially thought that the best we might do is get results as good as the sum of the two, and maybe if we didn't make this right, we'd get something worse. But surprisingly, these materials were much better." --Jin Zhang, Professor of Chemistry at the University of California, Santa Cruz