Pulses of laser light can make molecules react in ways that are impossible using classical test-tube chemistry. Molecules vibrate, and each molecule has its own “tone,” its own “melody.” It’s a question of finding the right key, and that is something that a “smart” laser beam can do. It can find its way to the right tone. In a new issue of the prestigious journal Nature it is shown how such a laser can be used to control photosynthesis molecules that gather light. This is the first time this feat has been done with such large and complicated molecules. Part of the work has been carried out at the Chemistry Center at Lund University in Sweden.
The experimental work has been performed at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, and researchers from the University of Glasgow and Vrije University in Holland have also been involved. The Lund scientist connected with the project is Dr. Jennifer L. Herek. Research has been under way for years in Lund seeking to understand how the process of photosynthesis, when plants transform sunlight and carbon dioxide into energy, works at the molecular level. One aim among others is to be able to utilize an artificial version of photosynthesis in the future production of energy.
“In our experiments we made use of a complex of antenna molecules, pigments that capture light and pass it on to a reaction center. Without all the knowledge gathered in Lund over the years about this complex, that feat would have been impossible. We could have used guesswork, but we would have had only one chance in a million to get it right,” says Jennifer Herek.
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