Researchers at MIT have developed a gossamer thin solar cell that is made of layers of flexible polymers and is so light that it can rest on a soap bubble without breaking it. As a bonus the thin, light cells puts out 400 times more power than the standard, glass covered photovoltaic cells, about six watts per gram.

To be sure, the MIT team has more work to do before they can produce the new cells at production volumes. But the process that created the solar cells was simple, done at room temperature without using solvents. They were produced using a vapor deposition process in a vacuum chamber.

The work that has to be done to develop a production process will be hard, but does not require miracles.

The applications of the new photovoltaic cells would change the way we use electronic devices. One of the banes of hand held electronics, including smart phones and tablets, is that they need constant recharging. Putting a layer of the ultrathin solar cell on the devices would cause them to be self-recharging, at least to a certain extent.

The material would also be incorporated into clothing, making wearable solar power a reality. Solar collecting clothing would be another option for recharging hand held electronics, as well as providing a method for keeping implantable medical sensors charged and functioning.

On a more macro level, the MIT developed solar collectors will make both aircraft and spacecraft lighter.

Drones already run on electricity, so adding the material would extend their range considerably. Experimental solar powered electric aircraft such as the Solar Impulse, are already flying. The light weight, ultrathin solar material will make passenger electric powered aircraft practical.

Most space craft use solar panels to provide power. However, using solar cells made with the MIT process would greatly reduce the weight of spacecraft, a consideration when the cost of launching them from Earth still costs a lot of money.

When the solar collecting material will become available on an industrial scale is uncertain. Currently the MIT researchers are looking at quantum dots and perovskites as substitutes for the polymers now being used.