Photosynthesis uses radiation from the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water from the atmosphere into biofuels. The molecular machinery responsible for this is reasonably well understood, and the process takes place in the chloroplasts of plant cells, which capture energy. Previous work on bacteria has shown that there are many mechanisms that allow energy to be captured in a highly efficient way, and this project aims to build on this by studying the energy capture mechanisms in plants and algae. These principles can then be applied to creating synthetic energy trapping systems that will be studied to see how they transfer energy. The ultimate goal is to use this knowledge to create efficient photovoltaic devices which can convert energy into an electrical current.
The project will primarily use the technique of Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) to observe the molecular arrangements and interactions behind energy capture. This involves physical contact between the AFM machine and the surface of the chloroplast membrane, much like reading Braille and as represented in the video below. Variants of AFM will also be used, such as affinity mapping, which allows molecules to be more clearly designated to different regions of the cell for more quantitative measurements. This will give an even more detailed view of these systems at the level of individual molecules.