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Researchers Seek The Power Of Photosynthesis

Harvesting the sun's energy the way plants do is a goal of scientists at the U.S. Dept. of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory. By studying energy transfer processes that are analogous to photosynthesis, they ultimately hope to develop new efficiency in converting solar energy into electric power. Under investigation is a simple, environmentally friendly method of depositing thin layers of dyes on a glass substrate to create a better solar collector. Each dye, able to absorb a certain wavelength of light, would be deposited on the substrate in sequence. Although the plate would look dark to the human eye, a cross-section would reveal a rainbow of colored layers piled on top of one another, explains researcher Greg Van Patten. To perfect the first dye layer, Patten's team is using the same class of dye -- porphyrins -- found in chlorophyll. If successful, the research could have applications beyond solar collectors. For example such energy transferring films could be used to harness sunlight to transform toxic environmental contaminants into harmless substances.

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