Scientists study new light harvesting mechanism to improve solar cells

Researchers have found new information on one of the molecular mechanisms behind light harvesting.

Light harvesting is the process that enables photosynthetic organisms to thrive whatever be the weather conditions.

The research was presented at the 58th Annual Biophysical Society Meeting in San Francisco between February 15 and 19.

During the meeting, Hsiang-Yu Yang, a graduate student, and Gabriela Schlau-Cohen, a postdoc in W.E. Moerner’s research group at Stanford University, described how probing these natural systems at the single molecule level helped to comprehend how light harvesting works. The researchers say this could help in improving the design and efficiency of devices like solar cells in the future.

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In a statement, Yang said, “Through our approach, we are able to have a better understanding of the natural designs of light harvesting systems, especially how the same molecular machinery can perform efficient light harvesting at low light while safely dissipating excess excitation energy at high light.”

The Moerner group has been studying several photosynthetic antenna proteins from the single-molecule Anti-Brownian ELectrokinetic (ABEL) trap and has found new states of the light harvesting with different degrees of quenching.

According to Schlau-Cohen, “By analyzing the transition between these states in a bacterial antenna protein they found a process that may be one of the molecular mechanisms of photoprotection, or the way in which the organism protects itself from damage by excess light.”

The researchers aimed that the study will help them in better understanding the natural designs of light harvesting systems which will in turn improve upon the construction of solar cells.

The detailed account of the study will be described at the 58th Annual Biophysical Society Meeting.