Diatoms’ glass-like shells help convert light into energy in dim conditions – ScienceDaily


A new study reveals how the glass-like shells of diatoms help these microscopic organisms photosynthesize in dim conditions. A better understanding of how these phytoplankton are harvested and how they interact with light could lead to improved solar cells, sensors and optical components.

“The computational model and toolkit we have developed can pave the way towards sustainable, mass-fabrication optical devices and more efficient light-harvesting tools based on diatom shells,” said research team member Santiago Bernal from McGill University in Canada. “This could be used for sensor biomimetic devices, new telecommunications technologies or affordable ways to produce clean energy.”

Diatoms are single-celled organisms found in most bodies of water. Their shells are covered in holes that respond to light differently depending on their size, spacing, and composition. in the journal Visual Materials ExpressResearchers led by David V. Plant and Mark Andrews of McGill University report the first visual study of an entire diatom’s shell. They analyzed how different sections of the crust, or frostbite, respond to sunlight and how that response relates to photosynthesis.

“Based on our findings, we estimate that the granules could contribute a 9.83% increase in photosynthesis, especially during the transition from high sunlight to low sunlight,” said Yannick de Melo, first author of the paper. “Our model is the first to explain the optical behavior of the whole pit. Therefore, it contributes to the hypothesis that the granule promotes photosynthesis in diatoms.”

Combined microscopy and simulation

Diatoms have evolved over millions of years to survive in any aquatic environment. This includes its shell, which is made up of many regions that work together to harvest sunlight. To study the photoresponse of diatom frustules, the researchers combined computer optical simulations with several microscopy techniques.

The researchers began by imaging the structure of the fristol using four high-resolution microscopy techniques: scanning near-field optical microscopy, atomic force microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, and dark-field microscopy. They then used these images to inform a series of models that the researchers built to analyze each part of the filling via a 3D simulation.

Using these simulations, the researchers examined how different colors of sunlight interact with structures and identified three primary mechanisms for solar energy harvesting: capture, redistribution, and retention. This approach allowed them to combine the different optical aspects of the pinhole and show how they work together to aid in photosynthesis.

“We used different simulations and microscopy techniques to examine each component separately,” said de Mello. “We then used this data to build a study of how the light interacts with the structure, from the moment it is captured, to where it is distributed next, to how long it is retained, to the moment it is likely to be absorbed by the cell.”

Promote photosynthesis

The study revealed that the wavelengths the mantle interacted with coincided with those it absorbed during photosynthesis, suggesting that it may have evolved to help capture sunlight. The researchers also found that different regions of the granule can redistribute light to be absorbed across the cell. This indicates that the envelope has evolved to increase the cell’s exposure to ambient light. Their findings also indicated that light circulates within the granules long enough to aid photosynthesis during periods of transition from high to low light.

The new frustule model could make it possible to grow diatom species that harvest light at different wavelengths, allowing them to be customized for specific applications. “Light-harvesting mechanisms from diatoms can be used to improve solar panel absorption by allowing sunlight to gather at more angles, thus partially removing the panel’s dependence on facing the sun directly,” Bernal said.

The researchers are now improving their model and planning to apply their new toolset to study other types of diatoms. Next, they plan to extend the model beyond light interactions within a single frostol to examine behaviors among multiple butterflies.

This work commemorates Dan Petrescu, who passed away last year. The research would not have been possible without his vision, assistance and dedication.

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Materials Introduction of optics. Note: Content can be modified by style and length.



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