If harnessing the unlimited solar power of the sun were easy, we wouldn't still have the greenhouse gas problem that results from the use of fossil fuel. And while solar energy systems work moderately well in hot desert climates, they are still inefficient and contribute only a small percentage of the general energy demand. A new solution may be coming from an unexpected source ― a source that may be on your dinner plate tonight.
"Looking at the most complicated membrane structure found in a plant, we deciphered a complex membrane protein structure which is the core of our new proposed model for developing 'green' energy'," says structural biologist Prof. Nathan Nelson of Tel Aviv University's Department of Biochemistry. Isolating the minute crystals of the PSI super complex from the pea plant, Prof. Nelson suggests these crystals can be illuminated and used as small battery chargers or form the core of more efficient man-made solar cells.
Nanoscience is the science of small particles of materials and is one of the most important research frontiers in modern technology. In nature, positioning of molecules with sub-nanometer precision is routine, and crucial to the operation of biological complexes such as photosynthetic complexes. Prof. Nelson's research concentrates on this aspect.
The mighty PSI
To generate useful energy, plants have evolved very sophisticated "nano-machinery" which operates with light as its energy source and gives a perfect quantum yield of 100%. Called the Photosystem I (PSI) complex, this complex was isolated from pea leaves, crystalized and its crystal structure determined by Prof. Nelson to high resolution, which enabled him to describe in detail its intricate structure.
"My research aims to come close to achieving the energy production that plants can obtain when converting sun to sugars in their green leaves," explains Prof. Nelson.
Described in 1905 by Albert Einste
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