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What is Doppler Effect?

What is Doppler Effect?

Everyone has observed the phenomenon of Doppler Effect at some point. An ambulance coming towards you sounds a bit high pitched and then when it goes away from you it sounds a bit low pitched. So basically Doppler Effect is the change in frequency or wavelength due to the relative motion between source and observer. This phenomenon was named after the Austrian physicist, Christian Doppler, who proposed it in 1842 during his time at Prague Polytechnic University.

Doppler effect can be observed in sound waves as well as electromagnetic waves i.e light. The apparent change in wavelength/frequency due to the motion of source object is called as Doppler Effect. Consider a scenario where an observer is observing a moving object. If the object is moving towards the observer the wavelength is shorter due to the motion of source, and hence the frequency increases (higher pitched sound). Whereas if the object is moving away from observer the wavelength is longer as source is moving away from the observer and hence frequency decreases (lower pitched sound).

In case of light, if the object is moving towards you its called as blue shift because the wavelength reduces i.e it shifts towards blue side of the Electromagnetic Spectrum and if the object is moving away its called as red shift because the wavelength increases i.e it shifts towards red side of the Electromagnetic spectrum.

Note that blue shift and red shift doesn’t actually mean the object appears blue or red, it just means that frequency increases or decreases. A stellar object’s spectrum may be in ultraviolet region which is already beyond blue, in that case blue shift means the spectrum shifts towards the higher frequency range.

Red Shift and Blue Shift of Electromagnetic Spectrum of a Star.


Some applications of the Doppler Effect

  • Police radars make use of Doppler effect. The device is pointed at the target (vehicle), radio waves are emitted which hit the target and are reflected back. Depending on whether the vehicle is moving towards or away the change in wavelength is measured and instantly speed of the vehicle is calculated by the electronic circuits in the device. Such device is a good for non-intrusive way of traffic rule enforcement.
    Handheld Police Radar.
    Image Credits :

  • Doppler Radars are used by Meteorologists to study the weather. Similar to Police radar it uses radio waves, they have large enough wavelength to interact with clouds and precipitation. This can be used to determine the speed of cloud and using other parameters like wind speed, temperature, air currents,etc the prediction of weather becomes more accurate.
    Doppler Radar at the National Weather Service in Dodge City, Kansas.

  • Doppler Echo-cardiogram is a device used to take images of heart. It uses sound waves which makes it relatively safe medical imaging technique. The sound waves bounce off the walls of heart and the red blood cells hence we obtain an image which helps determine the rate of blood flow and direction.
    Doppler Mitral Valve.
    Image : Wikipedia.

  • In Astronomy and Cosmology Doppler effect is used to determine if a stellar object is moving towards or away from us. It is also used to determine the distances of stellar objects. Click here to read more about determining stellar distances.
  • When a planet orbits a star, the star wobbles around the center of mass of the star planet system also called as barycenter (common center of mass for star and their planets). So the wobble means that the star moves away from us and towards us. That’s it! We can use Doppler Shift to detect exoplanets!!

Infact our sun also wobble mostly due to Jupiter.


Star Wobbles due to exoplanet.

To read more in detail about Doppler effect and also it’s mathematical formulation refer to this pdf.


What is Graphene?

What is Graphene?

Let’s start with a very short story, two physicists were having fun experimenting and they used scotch tape to remove layers of carbon from a lump of Graphite (material used in pencils). Voila, they made Graphene. And this thing got them the Nobel prize in Physics in 2010. Those two physicists were Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov. Now it sounds just too simple but there is still a lot to be known about Graphene.

A lump of graphite, a graphene transistor, and a tape dispenser. Donated to the Nobel Museum in Stockholm by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov in 2010.
Image credits: Wikipedia

Graphene in simple words is a very thin layer of carbon atoms, and by very thin I mean only one atom thick!! It’s a sheet of carbon atoms in hexagonal lattice. Fun fact: When you write with a pencil there’s a chance you might have accidentally created Graphene!

Let’s get straight to the properties of Graphene to help us understand why it is of such significance.

Properties of Graphene:

  • Structure: Graphene is a crystalline allotrope of carbon and is tightly packed in regular hexagonal pattern in one plane.Graphene’s stability is due to its tightly packed carbon atoms and a sp2 orbital hybridisation – a combination of orbitals s, px and py that constitute the σ-bond. The final pz electron makes up the π-bond. These π-bonds are responsible for most of graphene’s notable electronic properties, via the half-filled band that permits free-moving electrons. In simple words sp2 orbital gives graphene its strength and pz electron helps electrons to move easily. It’s actually a perfect 2D structure as its just one atom thick, well in atomic scale its 3D but its the best 2D structure we can get. Something so thin will be obviously very light weight. Apparently less than a gram of graphene sheet can cover an entire football field. And to top it off the structure of Graphene is so strong that it would take an elephant balancing on a sharp pencil to pierce a Graphene sheet with the thickness of Saran Wrap. (This fact about the strength of Graphene sheet is totally mind blowing and hard to digest). In technical terms the tensile strength of Graphene is 130 GPa , for comparison the tensile strength of stainless steel is 860 MPa !!


Hexagonal structure of Graphene
Hexagonal structure formed by 6 Carbon atoms.
  • Thermal Conductivity: Now we know Graphene is super strong very light weight one atom thick sheet of carbon atoms. As if it wasn’t enough Graphene is better at conducting heat than any other material. It is 10 times better at carrying heat than copper.
  • Electronic Properties: Graphene is also a very very good conductor of electricity. It has very less resistance due to the uniform flat structure of graphene, so the electrons flow very easily. At room temperature it can conduct electricity faster than any other known material.
  • Optical Properties: As Graphene is extremely thin it is almost transparent as one might expect. Infact Graphene transmits about 97% of light which is more than a glass pane.

Summary: So in short Graphene is ultra light, ultra thin, super strong, transparent and a very good conductor of heat and electricity!!

Graphene sheet.
Image credits:


Now lets get to the possible applications of this futuristic material.


  • Graphene is transparent and flexible conductor which is very promising for applications in LEDs, Solar cells,  flexible Touchscreens for wearable gadgets, etc.
  • Graphene super-capacitors serve as energy storage alternatives to traditional electrolytic batteries. Some advantages are fast charging, long life span and environment friendly production.
  • According to Moore’s Law, Silicon transistors are becoming smaller and smaller and hence approaching its limits. Graphene can be an exciting replacement in electronic devices due to its amazing properties and many big companies are working on it.
  • Graphene can be used to coat materials to increase their structural strength.
  • Such super materials have a direct application is sports. Like Graphene is used in tennis rackets and is said to have better performance than normal rackets. One other application is in Formula 1 cars (Which is already on a whole another level in terms of engineering and technology) or in sports cars. BAC’s 2016 Mono model is said to be made out of graphene as a first of both a street-legal track car and a production car.
2017 BAC Mono Graphene
Image credits:
  • The multifunctional nature of graphene means that it is going to have limitless applications we haven’t even thought of yet. It can be used in aerospace applications, motor vehicles, flexible wearable electronic devices, and many applications in medical and biomedical devices.


Inspite of all these benefits of a material of amazing properties whats stopping us from actually using it in the above applications? Well the method used by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov produces very less amount of Graphene and it may not be a perfect single layer of Graphene. The various methods of Graphene production are Mechanical Exfoliation (which means using scotch tape and other adhesives to peel of layers from Graphite), Chemical Vapour Deposition (in which we can produce comparatively big sheets of Graphene than exfoliation), Dispersing graphite in a liquid medium can produce graphene by sonication followed by centrifugation, etc. But all these methods produce less amounts of Graphene and new methods are being developed to reduce defects and production costs. As Graphene sheets are very difficult to make it is one of the most expensive materials on the planet as of now.

Production and development of Graphene is a very active field of research in the field of material science and it is said to be the material of the future. There might be other materials not yet discovered maybe similar or better than Graphene we don’t know!


How do solar cells work?

How do solar cells work?

The solar cell is an important candidate for an alternative terrestrial energy source because it can convert sunlight directly to electricity with good conversion efficiency, can provide nearly permanent power at low operating cost, and is virtually non-polluting. Solar cell also called as photovoltaic cell and are building blocks of solar panels. You must have seen these panels (large collection of solar cells) in green energy campaigns and also in developed cities in large arrays. It is used as a primary source of energy in space applications. ISS has large solar panels! Let’s understand the basics of solar cells.


The most commonly known solar cell is configured as a large-area p-n junction made from silicon. p-n junctions of silicon solar cells are made by diffusing an n-type dopant into one side of a p-type wafer (or vice versa). To get an idea about p-n junction click here. Now when light or photon hits the p-n junction it dislodges an electron and creates a hole in its place. Now the dislodged electron and hole are free to move in silicon crystal. Due to the electric field present, the electron moves to the n-type region and hole moves to the p-type region. The mobile electrons created in n-type are collected by thin metal fingers on the top of n-type region. Photons having energy equal to the band gap of silicon crystals are the only ones contributing in cells electrical output. Energy greater than band gap is lost as heat. We might also lose energy if electrons and holes recombine as soon as they are formed. So basically a solar cell works by knocking off electron of same energy as band gap of crystal material used and essentially converting light energy into electrical energy.

Schematic representation of silicon p-n junction Solar cell.


The radiative energy output from the sun derives from a nuclear fusion reaction. In every second, about 6 x 10^11 kg hydrogen is converted to helium, with a net mass loss of about 4 x 10^3 kg. We get a lot of energy from sun and if there is a way to harness this energy what’s stopping us from being completely reliant on solar power? There are various factors at play.

Terrestrially the sunlight is attenuated by clouds and by atmospheric scattering and absorption. Also we don’t receive sunlight during night time and during bad weather conditions. This is something we can’t do anything about. As mentioned above, only the photon having energy equal to band gap contributes in electrical output. Photons having energies other than band gap of semiconductor crystals either reflects back or goes through or the energy is just lost as heat energy. Antireflective coating is done to avoid reflection of photons. To deal with photons of energies other than band gap of that semiconductor crystal there is a different approach.

Spectrum Splitting : 

Spectrum splitting is a very good way of increasing efficiency of solar cells by splitting sunlight into narrow wavelength bands and directing each band to a cell that has a band gap optimally chosen to convert just this wavelength band of light. There is one more way, by simply stacking cell on top of one another with the highest band gap cell at the top which automatically achieves an identical spectral-splitting effect, making this “tandem” cell approach a reasonably practical way of increasing cell efficiency.

This is an area of active research where scientists all over the world are trying to increase the efficiency of solar cells. The most efficient solar cell yet still converts only 46% of solar energy into electricity. And most commercial systems convert only 15-20% of solar energy. Solar energy is a source of green and sustainable energy and probably a candidate for future source of energy.