Semiconducting aerogels have recently been demonstrated that cast quantum dots into a sparse, crystalline-like matrix with more space than substance. Such porous materials could enable supersensitive sensors and superefficient plastic photovoltaics, said the Wayne State University research team pursuing the project. That's because the very porous structure, through which environmental molecules can waft, has the maximum possible amount of surface area, essentially enabling every embedded quantum dot to sense the environment independently. "We have found that the best way to engineer nanoparticles with novel electronic properties is to replace the oxides that everybody else uses with a semiconductor," said professor Stephanie L. Brock, leader of the semiconducting-aerogel research group at Wayne State (Detroit). "Instead of an oxide, which is an insulator, we use a semiconducting material such as cadmium selenide or cadmium-, zinc- or lead sulphide."