Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Key Processes of Photosynthesis Simulated on the Quantum Level

11.11.2013
Physicists discover new properties of energy transport in experiments on “atomic giants”

By realising an artificial quantum system, physicists at Heidelberg University have simulated key processes of photosynthesis on a quantum level with high spatial and temporal resolution. In their experiment with Rydberg atoms the team of Prof. Dr. Matthias Weidemüller and Dr. Shannon Whitlock discovered new properties of energy transport.


Dipole-mediated energy transport of Rydberg-excitations (glowing balls) in an atomic sea – artist impression

Picture credits: S. Whitlock / G. Günter

This work is an important step towards answering the question of how quantum physics can contribute to the efficiency of energy conversion in synthetic systems, for example in photovoltaics. The new discoveries, which were made at the Center for Quantum Dynamics and the Institute for Physics of Heidelberg University, have now been published in the journal “Science”.

In their research, Prof. Weidemüller and his team begin with the question of how the energy of light can be efficiently collected and converted elsewhere into a different form, e.g. into chemical or electric energy. Nature has found an especially efficient way to accomplish this in photosynthesis. Light energy is initially absorbed in light-harvesting complexes – an array of membrane proteins – and then transported to a molecular reaction centre by means of structures called nanoantennae; in the reaction centre the light is subsequently transformed into chemical energy. “This process is nearly 100 per cent efficient. Despite intensive research we’re still at a loss to understand which mechanisms are responsible for this surprisingly high efficiency,” says Prof. Weidemüller. Based on the latest research, scientists assume that quantum effects like entanglement, where spatially separated objects influence one another, play an important role.

In their experiments the researchers used a gas of atoms that was cooled down to a temperature near absolute zero. Some of the atoms were excited with laser light to high electric states. The excited electron of these “atomic giants”, which are called Rydberg atoms, is separated by macroscopic distances of almost a hair’s breadth from the atomic nucleus. Therefore these atoms present an ideal system to study phenomena at the transition between the macroscopic, classical world and the microscopic quantum realm. Similar to the light-harvesting complexes of photosynthesis, energy is transported from Rydberg atom to Rydberg atom, with each atom transmitting its energy packages to surrounding atoms, similar to a radio transmitter.

“To be able to observe the energy transport we first had to find a way to image the Rydberg atoms. At the time it was impossible to detect these atoms using a microscope,” explains Georg Günter, a doctoral student in Prof. Weidemüller’s team. A trick from quantum optics ensured that up to 50 atoms within a characteristic radius around a Rydberg atom were able to absorb laser light. In this way each Rydberg atom creates a tiny shadow in the microscope image, allowing the scientists to measure the positions of the Rydberg atoms.

The fact that this technique would also facilitate the observation of energy transport came as a surprise, as PhD student Hanna Schempp emphasises. However, the investigations with the “atomic giants” showed how the Rydberg excitations, which are immersed in a sea of atoms, diffused from their original positions to their atomic neighbours, similar to the spreading of ink in water. Aided by a mathematical model the team of Prof. Weidemüller showed that the atomic sea crucially influences the energy transport from Rydberg atom to Rydberg atom.

“Now we are in a good position to control the quantum system and to study the transition from diffusive transport to coherent quantum transport. In this special form of energy transport the energy is not localised to one atom but is distributed over many atoms at the same time,” explains Prof. Weidemüller. As with the light-harvesting complexes of photosynthesis, one central question will be how the environment of the nanoantennae influences the efficiency of energy transport and whether this efficiency can be enhanced by exploiting quantum effects. “In this way we hope to gain new insights into how the transformation of energy can be optimised in other synthetic systems as well, like those used in photovoltaics,” the Heidelberg physicist points out.

Online information:
Research group of Prof. Weidemüller: http://www.physi.uni-heidelberg.de/Forschung/QD
Center for Quantum Dynamics: http://cqd.uni-hd.de
Institute for Physics: http://www.physi.uni-heidelberg.de/?lang=en
Original publication:
G. Günter, H. Schempp, M. Robert-de-Saint-Vincent, V. Gavryusev, S. Helmrich, C.S. Hofmann, S. Whitlock, M. Weidemüller: Observing the Dynamics of Dipole-Mediated Energy Transport by Interaction Enhanced Imaging, Science Express (7 November 2013), doi: 10.1126/science.1244843
Contact:
Prof. Dr. Matthias Weidemüller
Institute for Physics / Center for Quantum Dynamics
Phone +49 6221 54-19471, -19470 (secretary’s office)
weidemueller@uni-heidelberg.de
Communications and Marketing
Press Office, phone: +49 6221 54-2311
presse@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de

Marietta Fuhrmann-Koch | idw
Further information:
http://www.uni-heidelberg.de

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute

nachricht New survey hints at exotic origin for the Cold Spot
26.04.2017 | Royal Astronomical Society

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientist invents way to trigger artificial photosynthesis to clean air

26.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ammonium nitrogen input increases the synthesis of anticarcinogenic compounds in broccoli

26.04.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history

26.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>