May 9, 1996
Vol. 15, No. 17

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    Winston feted for work in solar energy

    Roland Winston, Professor in Physics, has been recognized for his pioneering work in non-imaging optics for solar energy with the first C. Raymond Kraus Medal, presented by the Franklin Institute. The Kraus Medal is the newest award given by the Franklin Institute, which has been recognizing outstanding scientific achievement since 1825.

    The award was presented in a ceremony last week in Philadelphia as part of a four-day celebration held by the institute. The event included the daylong symposium "New Revolutions in Solar Energy."

    Winston, a high-energy physicist by training, originally developed his non-imaging light concentrators to collect Cherenkov radiation produced by an elusive particle in an accelerator experiment in 1965. By the early 1970s, when the energy crisis was in full swing, University physics professors Robert Sachs, then Director of Argonne National Laboratory, and Riccardo Levi-Setti envisioned their potential application to concentrate the energy from the sun.

    While ordinary imaging lenses and mirrors can be used to concentrate light, they blur and broaden the image away from the focal point. By dispensing with the requirement of forming an image, sunlight can be concentrated to a much greater extent. Winston and his collaborators, including Joseph O'Gallagher, senior scientist in the Enrico Fermi Institute, have been able to concentrate sunlight to 84,000 times the natural level of sunlight at the surface of the earth. The highest intensity of sunlight in the solar system can be found not at the surface of the sun, but on the roof of the Kersten Physics Teaching Center, where Winston's research equipment is located.

    Winston's devices also eliminate the need to "track" the sun, an advance that removes a source of potential mechanical breakdown and reduces costs.

    The latest application for solar heat is, ironically, in cooling. An array of non-imaging optics can replace rooftop natural-gas-fired systems like many found on large buildings throughout Chicago. The city of Sacramento, Calif., is using a $600,000 grant from the state of California to fund a demonstration unit atop a downtown office building.

    Winston said the only thing holding back the explosive development of solar energy is relatively low fuel costs.

    "If the paybacks were available, you'd have an enormous use for solar energy today. But even very conservative estimates of future trends in oil prices mean that by early in the next century, a very large component of the world's energy delivery will have to come from renewable sources," he said. "The work we have done for the last 20 years could pave the way for widespread use of solar energy in the future. We think we have developed the technological base that will make these things possible."

    A faculty member here since 1963, Winston received his B.S. in 1956, his M.S. in 1957 and his Ph.D. in 1963, all from Chicago. He holds more than a dozen patents.