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Physics Discovery Could Improve Solar Cells

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A team of scientists led by Stony Brook University’s Jin Wang, a Professor of Chemistry and Physics, and Physics graduate student Zhedong Zhang, has announced a discovery that could help make sustainable solar energy a reality.

Jin Wang
Jin Wang

The team discovered a mechanism in the energy transfer process of photosynthesis (for the pigment-protein complex) that illustrates quantitatively the maintenance of long-survived quantum coherence.

The role of quantum coherence – when subatomic particles cooperate reflecting a form of harmony in the microscopic world – is important to understanding energy transfer in photosynthesis. Recently, a new phenomenon with quantum coherence puzzled many scientists – that quantum coherence can last over long periods of time, even under the influence of the fluctuating environments. For the past decade, scientists have devoted significant efforts to exploring the underlying mechanism for this phenomenon. Despite progress, the physical and quantitative understanding on how long quantum coherence is maintained is still incomplete.

Wang’s research suggests that due to the strong interactions, the energy carriers are screened by the discrete vibrations of pigment protein complex. This shields the energy carriers from the environmental influence. The process leads to long lasting coherence and the remarkable enhancement of energy transport efficiency.

The finding, published in Scientific Reports, demonstrates the role of coherence and provides scientists with a deeper understanding of the ultrahigh efficiency of energy transfer in photosynthesis. The team believes the finding can guide researchers how to enhance solar cell efficiency, and potentially other devices with low energy waste.

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