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Page updated at 12:43:23 PM on Monday, May 21st, 2012

QUBIOT2 - Optical simulators of quantum transport in photosynthetic systems and prospects for new solar energy technologies

Funded with €379,600.00 (on €478,000.00) for 36 months (from March, 2012 to March, 2015) by Italian MIUR within FIRB 2010 Edition

Person in charge: Filippo Caruso
LENS members: Marco Bellini, Chiara Corsi

Understanding the high-efficiency quantum transport scheme in photosynthesis would open interesting perspectives in the field of solar energy.

The role of quantum mechanics in biological organisms has been a fundamental question of twentieth-century biology. However, only recently, by exploiting new experimental spectroscopy techniques, it has been possible to observe quantum mechanical effects in biomolecules and, in particular, in light-harvesting systems at the basis of photosynthetic processes in plants, algae, and in some bacteria. Here, the energy of the absorbed solar photons is transferred from an absorbing centre to a reaction centre, where the effective photosynthesis occurs, via a very-high efficiency transport mechanism (above 95%). It is now widely believed that quantum effects play a fundamental role in making such a process remarkably robust and efficient.

Fern prothallial cell with chloroplasts (courtesy of Carolina Biological Supply Company).

A complete understanding of this high-efficiency quantum transport scheme would help clarifying the role of quantum mechanics in biological systems and could also open very interesting perspectives in the field of solar energy. In particular, it could give useful information for the synthesis of new molecular systems for artificial photosynthesis, which can mimic the behavior of light-harvesting complexes and be employed for the realization of a new generation of more efficient solar energy devices.

Quantum optical setup to simulate the energy transfer in light-harvesting systems for bacterial photosynthesis (a). Light is absorbed by some proteins, called antenna complex (b), and the excitation energy is tranferred to a reaction center. Similarly, one may transmit information in quantum communication networks (c).

In this context, the main goal of this project is the theoretical analysis and the experimental realization of optical simulators, made only by optical components, to reproduce the transport mechanism of light-harvesting systems, with particular attention to quantum effects that can increase the energy transfer efficiency (i.e., noise-assisted transport, suppression of dark states, and entanglement). The role of the electronic excitation in a given biological molecule will be played by the presence or absence of a single photon (the quantum of excitation of the electromagnetic field) in a particular spatial-temporal field mode. The best setup to simulate the complex interacting many-body system of the light-harvesting protein has to be a good compromise between the complexity of the real system and the experimental feasibility.

In order to obtain this ambitious goal, theoretical and experimental works are needed, respectively to identify an optical model simulating as closely as possible the complexity of biological systems, and to check the practical capability of realizing such an optical system with controllable and detectable parameters. The comparison between numerical simulations of theoretical models and experimental measurements will allow us to identify, realize, and characterize the more scalable, tunable, and feasible optical simulator.



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