The next WeChat is hiding in Canada and eyeing the U.S.


Waterloo, Ontario is a quiet sort of suburban college town, far removed from the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley. Although it’s positioned in Canada’s Tech Triangle, it’s not the sort of place you’d expect America’s next social media powerhouse to come from.

That is both the promise and the challenge of Kik, a messaging app built by Waterloo students in 2009. As a chatting app launched early amid a relatively quiet app landscape, Kik saw an initial explosion of viral adoption, albeit through slightly spammy techniques, and has been growing ever since.

Now, four years since its launch, Kik is positioning itself as America’s version of WeChat, the messaging behemoth of China. It believes it has the right product (text messaging, the old-fashioned kind) and the right audience (almost half of U.S. youth) to become a proper mobile first platform.

If it succeeds, it stands…

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Super efficient perovskites are dazzling solar cell researchers


There’s a lot of excitement about a class of materials called perovskites that promise to deliver efficient and cheap solar cells. Watching progress in perovskite research is fascinating because perovskites have been able to boost their efficiencies — the percentage of available sunlight that they convert to electricity — more rapidly than any other solar cell material that has been mass produced or being developed in labs.

In fact, efficiency figures jumped from around 10 percent to 20 percent in mere two years.

“That really takes people by surprise because this has never happened before,” Jao van de Lagemaat, center director for chemistry and nanoscience at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, told me earlier this summer. “People are making advances every week. There is always another rumor of another record being broken.”

In pursuit of lower production costs, one team at the Northern Illinois University recently demonstrated the possibility of…

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