A new, $1.5 million nanotechnology microscope is being used by researchers at the Queensland University of Technology to assist in the development of cheap, plastic solar cells to be used in charging mobile appliances.


Lead researcher Associate Professor Nunzio Motta said the microscope was equipped with a tiny metallic tip to see individual atoms, allowing precision better than a hundredth of a nanometer.


Professor Motta, a principal research fellow with the Faculty of Build Environment and Engineering said the microscope would accelerate QUT's efforts to study new materials with atomic resolution.


QUT researchers have started using the microscope to improve plastic solar cells by mixing them with tiny tubes of highly-conductive carbon, called nanotubes, which are 100 times smaller than a strand of human hair.


"At the moment the plastic solar cells are quite inefficient, but they are already used in niche markets for very low power portable applications," Professor Motta said.


"We are aiming to improve the efficiency of these plastic solar cells by studying the microscopic structure of the material. If we can do that, the advantages would be enormous.