Innovation Antenna Chalmers

Published on June 25th, 2013 | by Anneli Hidalgo

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New antenna captures the sunlight

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have found an effective solution for collecting sunlight for artificial photosynthesis.

Artificial synthesis is one of the hot trends in energy research at the moment. If it were possible to recreate the ability plants have to transform solar energy into fuel, a large number of the world’s energy problems could be resolved. A research team at Chalmers University of Technology has now made a nanotechnological breakthrough in the first step required for artificial photosynthesis. According to the research team, it is possible to use self-assembling DNA molecules as scaffolding to create artificial systems that collect light. The results were recently published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Scaffolding in plants and algae consists of a large number of proteins that organize chlorophyll molecules to ensure effective light collection. But the system is fairly complicated and would more or less be impossible to construct artificially. The Chalmers researchers have created a system that builds itself and approaches nature’s method. If any of the light-collecting molecules break, it will then be replaced with another one a second later. The sun’s light is moved to a reaction center in plants and algae so that they can synthesize sugars and other energy-rich molecules.

“We can move energy to a reaction center but we have not resolved how the reactions themselves are to take place there. This is actually the most difficult part of artificial photosynthesis. We have demonstrated that an antenna can easily be built. We have recreated that part of the miracle,” explains Bo Albinsson, professor of physical chemistry and head of the research team.

The researchers are combining artificial photosynthesis with DNA nanotechnology. DNA molecules have proven to function very well as building material. This is, according to Chalmers, because DNA strands have the ability to attach to each other in a predictable manner. As long as the correct assembly instructions are given from the start, DNA strands in a test tube can bend around each other and form any structure.

Antenna Chalmers edited

An artificial light-collecting antenna system. As it binds a large number of light-absorbing molecules (red balls) to a DNA molecule, which is then modified with a porphyrin unit (blue) it will result in the creation of a self-assembling system that resembles light harvesting in natural photosynthesis.

Read more about artificial photosynthesis: Faster photosynthesis to hasten hydrogen revolution

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