The science news site PhysOrg is reporting on a recent Berkeley paper on photosynthesis. Apparently, plants use quantum effects to quickly convert sunlight into chemical energy. The speed of the process is what allows for their near 100% efficiency.
The science of the effect is a bit beyond me, but the message is clear: the natural process of photosynthesis that fuels all life on Earth is astoundingly complex and effective, and what might seem like the simplest organisms–plants, trees, plankton, and the like–still escape our scientific understanding.
As the article points out, if human engineering could capture solar energy as efficiently as plants do, we’d be well on our way to solving our energy problems. From the article:
The photosynthetic technique for transferring energy from one molecular system to another should make any short-list of Mother Nature’s spectacular accomplishments. If we can learn enough to emulate this process, we might be able to create artificial versions of photosynthesis that would help us effectively tap into the sun as a clean, efficient, sustainable and carbon-neutral source of energy.