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Quantum secrets of photosynthesis

Hands-on at the exhibit

  • Control an animation of the journey of a photon with our interactive plant. Zoom in on diverse light-harvesting molecules.  
  • Build an abstract representation of a light-harvesting complex via a multiplayer touch table game.
  • Carry out an experiment on our giant LED light-harvesting complex, and discover the optimal combination of electronic and vibrational motions for efficient energy transfer.

Find out more

Photosynthetic organisms such as plants and some bacteria have evolved over billions of years to trap sunlight and convert it efficiently into chemical energy. It is thought that this efficiency is achieved by exploiting a weird quantum effect called quantum coherence. Our exhibit delves into the quantum physics of photosynthesis, which may help us to generate clean power in the future.

After a photon is absorbed by light-harvesting molecules in a photosynthetic organism, that energy must be transferred to a reaction centre extremely quickly, before it dissipates. Studies suggest that classical biochemistry cannot fully account for the speed of energy transfer. We are trying to find out how the light-harvesting molecules exploit just enough quantum coherence to optimally transfer and convert energy. We believe the key lies in the way electronic and vibrational motions of light-harvesting antennae cooperate. A deeper understanding of these principles will allow us to build bio-inspired devices to generate clean electricity more efficiently than today’s technology.

Try the interactive game.

Presented by: University College London, University of Glasgow