Algae use quantum trick to harvest light | Science News

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Algae use quantum trick to harvest light

Study detects predicted wavelike properties during photosynthesis

By
2:09pm, February 3, 2010

A dash of sunlight, a sprinkle of light-harvesting proteins and a healthy dollop of carbon dioxide is about all it takes to whip up a batch of tasty plant food — but you might want some quantum physics to stir the pot. Scientists have caught photosynthetic lake-dwelling algae performing long-lasting quantum tricks at room temperature. The results, published February 4 in Nature, suggest that quantum mechanics may be at the heart of sunlight-to-energy conversion in living organisms.

“This is quantum mechanics in a biological system,” says study coauthor Gregory Scholes, a physical chemist at the University of Toronto.

Photosynthesis relies on special proteins that absorb incoming photons, or particles of light. These photons excite electrons in the protein, touching off a series of electron transfers that ultimately ferry the energy-laden electrons to centralized collection stations (called photosystems) where the conversion of energy to ca

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