For 20 years, researchers have experimented with artificially created, tree-like molecules that act like antennae and might someday play a key role in a number of processes, from releasing a drug inside the body to converting light to energy more efficiently than Mother Nature. Now researchers at the University of Rochester have computed what seems to be the most efficient configuration for one class of these molecules, and have published their results in the July 10 issue of Physical Review Letters.
"These are giant, light-harvesting molecules," explains Shaul Mukamel, professor of chemistry. "Each one is designed like a net that captures light and funnels its energy into its core where we can make it do almost anything we want." The fractal-shaped molecules, called dendrimers, are currently used in laboratories to control chemical reactions, since researchers can use them to release a chemical at the perfect moment, but only recently have scientists realized some of their potential. The organic molecules look like snowflakes, with tiny limbs branching out in all directions to capture a ray of light and channel its energy into the molecule's heart. There the light energy can be harnessed to generate power like a super-efficient photoelectric cell or to release a chemotherapeutic drug inside a tumor after it's been carried through the bloodstream. Dendrimers might even one day act as the initial necessary step in photosynthesis, improving the light-harvesting task performed naturally within any green leaf, to yield crops that can grow where none grew before.
To determine the most efficient configuration, graduate student Subhadip Raychaudhuri and chemistry research associate Vladimir Chernyak, worked with Mukamel and Yonathan Shapir, professor of physics, to run thousands of computer simulations that incorporated everything known about the way atoms interact, to see whether there was a certain shape or size of dendrimer that caught and funneled light's e
Contact: Jonathan Sherwood
University of Rochester