Photosynthesis goes Quantum

Physicists at Heidelberg University have simulated key processes of photosynthesis on a quantum level by realising an artificial quantum system!

No, I do not know what an artificial quantum system entails, but you can click here to read the article yourself on!

By experimenting with Rydberg atoms, a team of researchers led by Professor Dr. Matthias Weidemuller and Dr. Shannon Whitlock have discovered new properties of energy transport. Their work has helped towards answering the question of how quantum physics can contribute to the efficiency of energy conversion in synthetic systems.

They began with the question of how the energy of light can be collected and converted elsewhere in a different form, like into chemical or electric energy. It’s always been a mystery to me: how the energy we use to move comes from the food we eat, which comes from the food that food ate, which all goes back to the light that food collected from the sun.
“To be able to observe the energy transport we first had to find a way to image the Rydberg atoms. At the time it was impossible to detect these atoms using a microscope,” explains Georg Günter.

A quantum optics trick ensures that up to 50 atoms within a certain radius around a Rydberg atom are able to absorb laser light. Each Rydberg atom thus  creates a tiny shadow in a microscope image, allowing scientists to approximate the Rydberg atoms’ positions.

PhD student Hanna Schempp emphasizes that this technique facilitating the observation of energy transport came as a surprise.

Investigations with the “atomic giants” showed how the Rydberg excitations, which are immersed in a ‘sea of atoms”, diffused from their original positions to their neighbors.  Aided by a mathematical model, Prof. Weidemüller’s team showed that the ‘atomic sea” crucially influences the energy transport from Rydberg atom to Rydberg atom.

The idea is similar to how ink spreads in water. The excitations transport from atom to atom, like a contagious disease, like a catchy tune, like a good idea!

I hope that studying things on a quantum level continues to reveal new things about how our world works.



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