Thursday, April 15, 2010

Engineered Virus Harnesses Light to Split Water

Scientific American's 2006 researcher of the year, MIT's Angela Belcher, has engineered a virus so that it captures light energy and uses it to catalyze the splitting of water, a first step in a possible new way to generate hydrogen for fuel cell. [...]

Belcher and her team took a harmless virus called M13. They engineered it so that one end carries a catalyst-iridium oxide. Bound at the other end are light-sensitive pigments, zinc porphyrins. The porphyrins capture light energy, and transmit it along the virus, acting as a wire, to the other end, activating the catalyst. Which splits water into oxygen and the constituents of hydrogen, a proton and electron. The work appears in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. [See]

The scientists are working on ways to recombine the protons and electrons back into hydrogen atoms and then molecules of H2. They're also seeking a cheaper catalyst than iridium.


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