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Physics Colloquium: "Blue Waters at Work: Energy Conversion in Photosynthesis Resolved from Angstrom-scale Physics to Cell-scale Biology"

SpeakerKlaus Schulten, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Date Nov 12, 2014
Time 4:00 pm  
Location 141 Loomis
Cost None
Sponsor Physics Department
Contact Stephanie Johansson
Phone 217-300-4241
Event type Physics Colloquium
Views 29
Originating Calendar Physics - Colloquium

The photosynthetic chromatophore is a spherical shell of 50 nm diameter that exists in hundreds of copies in purple bacteria and converts sun light into chemical synthesis of an energy-rich molecule, adenosin triphosphate (ATP).  Each chromatophore is made of over hundred protein complexes with thousands of light absorbing and electron conducting molecules embedded in them; the complexes are held together by a membrane made of 20,000  lipid molecules.  Despite its complexity and heterogeneity the chromatophore can be viewed today through Blue Waters computing at atomic- and electronic-level detail in its entire structure and function.  One sees a clockwork of linked, mostly rather elementary processes: light absorption, coherent and incoherent exciton formation, intermolecular electron and proton transfer, charge carrier diffusion, electrostatic steering of protein-mediated electron conduction,  molecular motor action driven by proton conduction, and lastly mechanically driven ATP synthesis.  For the first time a major part of a biological cell has been resolved in its entirety at the level of truly basic physics, showcasing how Angstrom-scale processes lead to 100-nm-scale intelligent overall function.  In viewing the chromatophore one can recognize in an exemplary fashion how evolution engineered an apparatus crucial for solar energy-driven life on Earth, utilizing amazing processes on the small scale by linking them together in a clock-work fashion such that an efficient, robust and adaptive cell-scale function emerges.

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