Photonic Biomimetics

ACCELERATOR FUND

Project period: January 2017 – August 2017

GW4 community leads
University of Bath: Professor Richard Trask
University of Bristol: Dr Heather Whitney, Dr Martin Lopez-Garcia
Cardiff University: Dr Stephen Lynch
University of Exeter: Dr Jacopo Bertololi

Project overview

Photosynthesis is probably the most important photochemical process on the planet. Researchers have long investigated how a plant absorbs light to convert it to useful chemical energy, but this key process is still not fully understood. Some photosynthetic organisms may manipulate light even more efficiently than others, using intracellular photonic structures.

This project will exploit recent results showing that seaweed develop specialised natural “opals”, 3D closely packed oil-droplet clusters, that show a strong blue iridescence. The biosynthesis and function of these opals remains unclear, but we aim to demonstrate that they increase or regulate the light available for photosynthesis, and that the dynamic nature may be controlled chemically. Photonic structures are known to enhance light capture and are therefore of interest directly for more efficient energy generation through solar capture, both through artificial technologies, but also natural ones such as algal farms and enhanced crop production.