University of Toronto
Sunlight is the most abundant source of energy humanity has at its disposal. But the technologies available for harvesting energy from sunlight need to be more efficient before solar power can begin to truly replace higher polluting forms of energy.
The work of Professor Greg Scholes is showing that the answers may be all around us in nature. He has established himself as a leader in the field of energy transfer — the process whereby absorbed light is transferred from molecule to molecule.
Prof. Scholes, the 2012 recipient of the NSERC John C. Polanyi Award, has shown that quantum mechanical effects are involved in the capture and distribution of the sun’s energy during photosynthesis. By demonstrating the connection between biology and quantum physics, his work raises significant questions on how far quantum laws reach and whether they influence complex living systems.
The interest in these questions is high. Prof. Scholes’ work has been featured in Nature, Wired, Scientific American and on CBC News, Discovery and Quirks and Quarks. By studying the mechanisms used by some natural organisms to capture and make use of the sun’s energy with extreme efficiency, humanity could learn crucial lessons in making better use of solar conversion to meet our own growing energy needs.
His recent work on light-harvesting in marine algae has shown that light-absorbing molecules in some photosynthetic proteins capture and transfer energy according to laws of quantum mechanical probability — work that opens new windows of opportunity for physicists and engineers to study the effective capture of photons and the transfer of light energy.