Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Do Plants Know the Secrets of Quantum Solar Power?

In the past few years a few articles have been written regarding some pretty fascinating discoveries. Plants use sunlight to photosynthesize, a process where they absorb energy from the photons and use it to grow. This process is complex and involves cells that sense light, filter it and other cells that then actually digest the energy. Until recently scientists believed that the filtering occured randomly and that efficiency was a byproduct of the amount of light hitting the plants. The following articles dig more deeply into this new insight, quantum photosynthesis.


If you don't wish to spend your time reading, here is a brief synopsis.
In quantum mechanics there is one simple principle about light, wave-particle duality. This principle supposes that light acts as both a particle and a wave, and that wave has a probablility associated with it, in other words, they particle has a certain probability of being observed in a certain location. When I say observed, I actually mean observed, for a certain scientist, Heisenberg came up with a theory that backs Richard Feynman's theories about light. When we observe a particle its probability function condenses to 1 path, thus we see light moving in a fixed trajectory, as if it is a particle.

So if you have lost things a bit here let me try to bring it all back. Plants do something amazing, when a photon hits the receptor cells, instead of condensing into a single particle, it is able to pass through as a wave, the plant then picks the optimal path of the particle to achieve the best energy absorption. Once the path is picked, the other possible paths decay and the photon is absorbed by the cell that can retain the most energy.

If you are still confused here is the super simple, plants are extremely efficient at collecting light. So efficient in fact that quantum physicists aren't really sure how they do it. Unlocking this mystery might allow us to create ultra efficient solar panels, and possibly new ways of transferring information using light.


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