the small stuff

Sunday, February 15th, 2004

The stuff that happens behind the scenes is complex. It always amazes me, for example, that computers actually work and when I turn the ignition in my jeep, the thing starts. EEtimes reports on the things that happen behind the scenes. Consider this:

Working with researchers at the University of New Mexico’s Center for Microengineered Materials, Sandia scientist John Shelnutt has created convoluted platinum structures that might be used to split hydrogen atoms from water molecules, leading to a light-driven source of hydrogen.

Controlling platinum deposition at the molecular level could be used in such applications as “catalysis, sensors and optoelectronic and magnetic devices,” he said.

Porphyrin is only one component in a complex series of molecular stages used by the photosynthetic process to convert light into the chemical ATP, which is the fuel that powers all living cells. Chlorophyll acts as an antenna that resonates with photons, passing the energy along to porphyrin, which responds by donating electrons to a complex molecular configuration that uses them to generate protons inside a cavity. The protons then drive the synthesis of ATP from precursors. The entire process is complex and still not fully understood.

Part of the quest is to find more efficient photosynthetic machines, since the natural variety is highly inefficient.

Molecular systems that mimic photosynthesis also have applications in molecular electronics. Devens Gust, a biochemist at Arizona State University (Tempe, Ariz.), has been working with Michael Kozicki in the university’s Department of Electrical Engineering to find a way to connect optical-molecular electronic switches based on photosynthetic components to the completely different material system found in silicon-based electronic circuits.

Power can be defined in all kinds of ways. Curiosity can be a part of the definition, which means that the border will always morph.


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