“Energy transfer inlight-harvesting macromolecules is assisted by specific vibrational motions ofthe chromophores,” said Dr Alexandra Olaya-Castro (UCL Physics & Astronomy), supervisorand co-author of the research. “We found that the properties of some of the chromophorevibrations that assist energy transfer during photosynthesis can never bedescribed with classical laws, and moreover, this non-classical behaviourenhances the efficiency of the energy transfer.”
Other biomolecular processes such as thetransfer of electrons within macromolecules (like in reaction centres in photosyntheticsystems), the structural change of a chromophore upon absorption of photons(like in vision processes) or the recognition of a molecule by another (as inolfaction processes), are influenced by specific vibrational motions. The results of this research therefore suggest that acloser examination of the vibrational dynamics involved in these processescould provide other biological prototypes exploiting truly non-classicalphenomena.
Current devices that imitate photosynthesis in plants focus on using sunlight and a photocatalyst to convert water into hydrogen gas, which can be used as fuel. But for today’s transportation engines, liquid, carbon-based fuels such as butanol are much more practical. To produce these with a photosynthetic device, researchers need to take another page out of the plants’ playbook: reducing CO2 to make molecules with carbon-carbon bonds.
We found that the properties of some of the chromophore vibrations that assist energy transfer during photosynthesis can never be described with classical laws, and moreover, this non-classical behaviour enhances the efficiency of the energy transfer.