Bio-inspired Photosynthetic Materials for Solar Energy Harvesting

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Engineering


The demand for sustainable, renewable sources of energy in the 21st century is one of the most important societal and scientific challenges faced by humanity. Of the various renewable energy sources available, solar energy is by far the largest and is one which is most effectively utilised in Nature via the processes of photosynthesis. Photosynthetic organisms capture solar energy using arrays of Light Harvesting (LH) proteins assembled within cell membranes. These organisms - particularly those that reside in light-challenged environments - are faced with a formidable energy problem: How to capture sufficient energy to drive their cellular metabolism? This energy conundrum is elegantly addressed by stacking two-dimensional arrays of LH proteins within multiple thylakoid membranes housed in chloroplasts. An exquisite example of self-assembly, the 3D protein ordering found in these photosynthetic organisms therefore provides the fundamental design principles to develop artificial photosynthetic materials.
This research programme seeks to design and construct a new generation of DNA-programmed light-harvesting assemblies for the future applications in energy harvesting surfaces and advanced photovoltaic devices that fuse biomolecular, electrical and material components. To do so we will use DNA-Origami to direct the placement of light harvesting proteins with nano-scale precision onto engineered surfaces. This bio-inspired platform methodology merges the principles of "bottom up" DNA nanotechnology with "top down" nanolithography and would provide the means to control, for the first time, the location of each photosynthetic protein module, inter-module distance and their relative orientation in both 2D and 3D along surfaces. This new design lexicon will provide a framework to correlate how these parameters influence overall light harvesting efficiency for the production of a new class of bio-enabled solar energy harvesting surfaces and materials.

The student will work within an established research team to investigate all aspects of the system, from design of the DNA-origami, to the capture of the proteins, to the subsequent construction of novel light-harvesting materials. This multidisciplinary project represents an excellent opportunity for a student with a background in either bio-engineering, physics, chemistry or biology to work at the forefront of nanotechnology research.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/R513222/1 01/10/2018 30/09/2023
2278941 Studentship EP/R513222/1 01/10/2019 01/10/2023 Iain Christie