Lasers measure energy transfer at molecular scale

Ultrafast laser equipment that generates intense pulses of light is being used by scientists to measure energy transfer at the molecular scale.

Scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) are using new equipment that is capable of generating intense pulses of light to measure how energy is transferred on the molecular scale.

By studying how energy is transferred in natural and artificial systems, such as proteins and molecular materials, the researchers hope they will be able to help design new molecular structures for nanomachines and solar-power collectors.

Steve Meech, professor of chemistry at UEA, told The Engineer: ‘We’re interested in molecular motors and the devices you need to absorb solar energy in order to transport it to a molecule that does the work.’

If the molecules are made in the lab then their structures are known.

‘What is not known is the relationship between the structure and the electronic couplings that drive the energy transport and those are the things we want to get to,’ said Meech.

The new laser will observe the very fastest reactions through 2D electronic spectroscopy experiments.

‘We will use the apparatus to probe excited state dynamics on an ultrafast time scale,’ said Meech. ‘In 2D electronic experiments we can view the electronic coupling between molecules that is responsible for energy transport and electron transfer,’ said Meech.

The underlying process is analogous to the much better-known method of 2D nuclear magnetic resonance,

‘We will provide new and more detailed insights into the relationship between molecular structure and excited state dynamics. We will use this information to inform the design of molecular structures to exploit solar energy,’ said Meech.

The research is being made possible as a result of two EPSRC grants in the form of a £466,000 equipment grant and £613,000 for staff and collaborations to advance the research.