U.S. scientists have discovered how, through photosynthesis, solar energy is transferred across molecular systems with nearly 100-percent efficiency.
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California-Berkeley say the answer lies in quantum mechanics.
The scientists found speed is the key for green plants and cyanobacteria to be able to transfer sunlight energy to molecular reaction centers for conversion into chemical energy, with the transfer occurring nearly instantaneously so little energy is wasted as heat.
"We have obtained the first direct evidence that remarkably long-lived wavelike electronic quantum coherence plays an important part in energy transfer processes during photosynthesis," said Graham Fleming, principal investigator for the study. "This wavelike characteristic can explain the extreme efficiency of the energy transfer because it enables the system to simultaneously sample all the potential energy pathways and choose the most efficient one."
Fleming, deputy director of Berkeley Lab, and colleagues Gregory Engel, Tessa Calhoun, Elizabeth Read, Tae-Kyu Ahn, Tomas Mancal, Yuan-Chung Cheng, and Robert Blankenship, report their findings in the current issue of the journal Nature.