Skip to content

SciTech

Neutron probe reveals bacteria's light-gathering secrets

by Martin Leggett 24 Mar 2011
Neutron probe reveals bacteria's light-gathering secrets

The quest for ever-more efficient solar cells has led scientists into a deeper investigation of how solar energy is harvested amongst a range of organisms. Now that quest has delved a little deeper, with new research using a neutron probe - known as the Bio-SANS instrument - that has been published in the journal Langmuir. It has opened up the nanoscale to the team of scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), who are looking at how green photosynthetic bacteria gather light so efficiently.

The structures that collect the sunlight in these bacteria are called chlorosomes, and interest scientists because of their ability to work even in poor light conditions, or extreme temperatures. But because they are so tiny, working out the details of how they manage this, is difficult. It is important to understand this, however, if scientists are to be able to develop new bio-solar cells that mimic bacterial effectiveness.

Research scientist Volker Urban, of ORNL's Center for Structural Molecular Biology (CSMB), says these chlorosomes are ''one of the most efficient light harvesting antenna complexes found in nature... What's so amazing about the chlorosome is that this large and complicated assembly is able to capture light effectively across a large area and then funnel the light to the reaction center without losing it along the way.''

The probe the team used was powered by CSMB's High Flux Isotope Reactor, and employed small-angle neutron scattering. This allowed the chlorosome structure to be explored in minute detail, without damaging it. The researchers, including some from Washington University in St. Louis, found that the chlorosome structure was very stable for a range of temperature and ionic conditions.

That could make it very useful for solar energy applications. Urban said. "This is important for potential biohybrid applications - if you wanted to use them to harvest light in synthetic materials like a hybrid solar cell, for example." It may be that the solar power of the future will be inspired by the first, and best, solar-powered organisms on the planet.


Trending Eco-Friendly Clothing

Love My Planet Women's Relaxed Fit Hoodie
Earth
Quick Add
Close
Notify me
Notify me
Love My Planet Women's Relaxed Fit Hoodie
Love My Planet women's eco-friendly relaxed fit hoodieSize Guide Centimeters 8 10 12 14 16 18 Bust 84 88 92 97 103 108 Waist 66 70 75 80 85 91 Hips 91 95 99 104 109 116 Bust: Measure around the fullest part of...
£38.00
£38.00
Close
Notify me
Notify me
Penguins Hate Push-Ups Men's Pullover Hoodie
Earth
Quick Add
Close
Notify me
Notify me
Penguins Hate Push-Ups Men's Pullover Hoodie
Penguins Hate Push-Ups men's eco-friendly pullover HoodieSize Guide Centimeters XS S M L XL XXL Height 171 175 179 183 189 195 Chest 86 93 99 104 116 129 Waist 71 76 81 89 99 112 Chest: Measure all round your chest just below...
£38.00
£38.00
Close
Notify me
Notify me
Lightning Bolt Kids Long Sleeve T-Shirt
Earth
Quick Add
Close
Notify me
Notify me
Notify me
Lightning Bolt Kids Long Sleeve T-Shirt
Lightning Bolt kids eco-friendly long sleeve t-shirtSize Guide Centimeters 3-4yrs 5-6yrs 7-8yrs 9-10yrs 11-12yrs Height 98 112 125 136 147 Chest 60 66 70 75 84 Chest: Measure all around your chest just below your armpits. Height: Your natural height If you fall between...
£18.00
£18.00
Close