Bacteria may aid solar energy technology

May 5, 2010 at 12:25 PM
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CORAL GABLES, Fla., May 5 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they are studying the light harvesting properties of purple bacteria in hopes of adapting their natural designs in solar technologies.

University of Miami scientists said purple bacteria are single-celled microscopic organisms that live in aquatic environments, such as the bottom of lakes and in sea corals. They said the bacteria's natural design seems the best structural solution for harvesting solar energy.

Professor Neil Johnson, a physicist who is leading the research, says the bacteria's cellular arrangement could be adapted for use in solar panels and other energy conversion devices to offer a more efficient way to garner energy from the sun.

"These bacteria have been around for billions of years, you would think they are really simple organisms and that everything is understood about them," Johnson said. "However, purple bacteria were recently found to adopt different cell designs depending on light intensity. Our study develops a mathematical model to describe the designs it adopts and why, which could help direct design of future photoelectric devices."

Johnson and his collaborators from the University of the Andes in Colombia report their findings in the journal Physical Review Letters.

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