Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have established that they can combine the fields of quantum physics and genetic engineering to create a virus which can improve solar cells in the aspect of energy transportation.
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“This is exciting and high-quality research,” said Alán Aspuru-Guzik, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University who was not involved in this work. The study, he said, “combines the work of a leader in theory (Lloyd) and a leader in experiment (Belcher) in a truly multidisciplinary and exciting combination that spans biology to physics to potentially, future technology.”
Professor Seth Lloyd of MIT, who happens to be an expert on quantum theory published a study in the journal Nature Materials, which showed that during photosynthesis, as soon as photon hits a receptor known as chromophore, a quautum particle called exciton is produced. The exciton moves from one receptor to another until it gets to a center where energy reaction is harnessed.
Although this remains largely theoretical at the moment, the protocols could enable the production of very cheap and highly efficient solar cells or light-driven catalysts. The virus that was engineered through the fusion of quantum physics and genetic engineering collects and transports energy emanating from light without initially harvesting it to produce power as can be evidenced in solar cells or photosynthesis. To do this, the experimenters only need create a reaction center to the end of the virus where the excitons appear.
“Access to controllable excitonic systems is a goal shared by many researchers in the field,” Aspuru-Guzik adds. “This work provides fundamental understanding that can allow for the development of devices with an increased control of exciton flow.”
The genesis of the experiment took off during an accidental meeting between Seth Lloyd and Angela Belcher, both of MIT, at a conference in Italy; 14 other researchers in MIT and Italy later joined them for experiments in the study.
Considering the fact that the pathway for the energy is not steady until quantum effects comes in, it will require several pathways which come all at once to allow for the choice of one – something that plays out like a wave instead of the particle that it is. To make the excitons move in the correct fashion, chromophores must be arranged properly to produce what Llyod called the “Quantum Goldilocks Effects.”
Then the engineered virus comes into play here. The virus Belcher created was used to bond with multiple synthetic chromophores (organic dyes was used in this case), and this enabled the researchers to create several viruses for their purpose.
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With the ultimate engineering of the viruses, the research team was able to use laser spectroscopy and dynamic modeling to study the process of light harvesting in motion, and to prove for all to see that the engineered virus used quantum capability to improve the movement of excitons within the system.