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The Electron, Nanotechnology, and Solar Power
2006 01 24

By T. McGee |

The electron is the ultimate currency of modern society and biology. Whether it is powering a cell phone or a cellular organism makes little difference to the electron….or does it? A theoretical chemist by the name of Marshall Newton (great last name!) is figuring out how the environment (atomic nuclei) around an electron influences its behavior. Also known as vibronic interactions, scientists think the environment on the nanoscale can make as large an impact on an electron as our environment has on us. Through understanding this behavior of atomic nuclei and electrons we may be able to build more efficient means of collecting, storing, and transporting energy. Right now Mother Nature has us beat; but she has been designing for millions of years, and we still have a few tricks up our sleeves.

With further understanding, and models like Newton’s, we are beginning to get a good idea of the true depth of nano-engineering in Biology. The process of photosynthesis is one of those things which I find amazing. With a few proteins, and clever molecular biology, life has figured out a very cheap, sustainable, solar technology. It may even be taking advantage of vibronic interactions itself to increase the efficiency of electron transfer. If I may further postulate, it is also possible that the specific vibronic interactions of the common 20 amino acids and their polymers is why they, out of the hundreds of possible, are used by life itself. But I digress.

Through better understanding of the electron ‘environment’ we can also appreciate the limitations of life. Most organisms do not have access to exotic minerals, metals, and elements; they simply have to design with what is laying around. Don’t get me wrong, they have done a fantastic job. Just look at an abalone shell, spider silk, or mussel byssus. We can learn a ton from the design of biological materials on the nanoscale. Biomimetics may also lead us in the field of adjusting vibronic interactions to suit our needs in materials science applications. But with our human ability to gather and organize complex materials and elements, the future of solar power and synthetic chemistry has never looked brighter. ::Moving Electrons [by T. McGee]

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