From nature to nano: Learning and mimicking evolution’s designs for efficient conversion of solar energy to electrical current

Grantham Scholar Dr Guy Mayneord is currently a scientist at Cambridge Display Technology. At the Grantham Centre he used Atomic Force Microscopy to observe the molecular arrangements and interactions behind energy capture.

The project

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.

Find out more about AFM in this video.

Guy Mayneord’s outreach

In 2016 Guy helped organise a panel debate with experts Clean Power for All as part of our Scholar outreach programme. You can watch this on our YouTube channel.

Guy Mayneord led a session on photosynthesis for this fellow Grantham Scholars. Here, he explains the important role of the thylakoid membrane in this process. Plus he explores questions surrounding our understanding of it. Read: Investigating the thylakoid membrane.

At another Journal Club – led by Professor of Soft Matter Physics Ashley Cadby, Guy’s supervisor – funding for science was the topic. Read: By accident or design: how should we fund science? By Guy Mayneord.

In 2015, Guy Mayneord and Oleksandra Korychenska represented the Grantham Centre at a University of Sheffield alumni event at The Royal Society. The evening’s discussion the ‘energy conundrum’ took place as Grantham Centre experts arrived in Paris for COP21. Here, Guy looks at the issues raised. Read: The energy conundrum with TUoS alumni at the Royal Society by Guy Mayneord.

Social media

You can find Guy on LinkedIn.

Guy’s supervisors

Two of Guy’s supervisors – Matt Johnson and Neil Hunter – were awarded prestigious Biochemical Society medals. Read: Photosynthesis researchers to be awarded Biochemical Society medals. And Matt Johnson also won one of biology’s most prestigious prizes: the Society of Experimental Biology’s President’s Medals.

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Dr Ashley Cadby

Department of Physics and Astromomy