Sunday, February 8, 2009
Researchers are trying to understand how nature transports energy across large molecules by observing the role of electrons in photosynthesis. Discovering how electrons interact with each other during energy transport will lead to the design of more efficient solar cells and other electrical devices.
Laser developments at Imperial College London have enabled Dr. Mercer of University College Dublin, Ireland to take a laser snapshot of the energies inside the LH2 protein involved in photosynthesis. The Imperial laser (see picture above) sees electrons by taking a snapshot lasting only 100 femtoseconds, or one ten-thousandth of a billionth of a second! This new method is paramount because the single, ultra fast laser shot does not destroy the molecules before they can be observed, and the data received is instantaneous. Previous laser methods focused thousands to millions of pulses onto proteins to view the inner electron coupling. However, theses techniques result in altered images because the molecular structure of the proteins are easily transformed or completely destroyed after so many exposures.
The key to this new approach is putting a broad spectrum of colors into one laser pulse. The pulse is then split into three beams incident on the protein, and the colors that emerge correspond to specific energies that interact inside the protein. This laser is huge for the optics field and many researchers are eager to apply the new method in their own research. The performance of solar cells will no doubt be enhanced as electron transport is understood more and more. I am just excited to see how soon we will feel the affect of this advancement in one of the most basic fields of physics.
BBC Photosynthesis viewed in a flash