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Oriental hornet  (Source: Commons)
Could lead to the development of better solar cells

Tel Aviv University scientists have found that Oriental hornets have similar capabilities as plants when it comes to the process of photosynthesis. 

Professor David Bergman, a physicist and professor at Tel Aviv University's School of Physics and Astronomy, along with Professor Jacob Ishay, of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine, and Professor Marian Plotkin, a doctoral candidate, have studied the Oriental hornet and found that certain parts of its body are capable of converting the sun's energy into electric power much like plants do during photosynthesis. 

Entomologists have recorded similar results when studying Oriental wasps. They found that the wasps were more active during the afternoon when the sun was at its highest point rather than the early morning when the sun was just rising, or at night. The same results were recorded for hornets, who were digging more energetically when the sun was up. 

Several years ago, Bergman and his team discovered that the Oriental hornet's exoskeleton, or outer body shell, was capable of harvesting solar energy. Since this discovery, the researchers have tried to imitate this process by studying all the elements that could affect how this occurs. Humidity, temperature, solar radiation and other weather-related conditions were studied, and the results showed that UVB radiation solely caused the change in the hornet's behavior. The hornet's body also contains a heat pump system that keeps it cool despite absorbing the suns energy. 

In addition, the researchers found that the yellow and brown stripes on the Oriental hornet's abdomen specifically allow a photo-voltaic effect, absorbing radiation while the yellow pigment converts it into electric power. The brown shell is made from grooves that split the light into separate beams, and the yellow is made from "pinhole depressions" holding a pigment called xanthopterin. 

Researchers have tried to imitate this process in the lab, but had poor results. They could not reach the same efficiency rates of energy collection as the Oriental hornets. But they plan to continue improving their methods to mimic this process in order to better understand it and possibly create better solar cells based on the findings. 

"The interesting thing here is that a living biological creature does a thing like that," said Bergman. "The hornet may have discovered things that we do not yet know."

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By Motamid on 1/7/2011 8:24:13 PM , Rating: 4
certain parts of its body are capable of converting the sun's energy into electric power much like plants do during photosynthesis

I think I've seen you make this mistake in other articles as well. Photosynthesis converts light energy into chemical energy, not electric energy. This makes it a bit different than common solar cells which do in fact convert light energy directly into electricity. This hornet is likely to have more in common with solar cells than with plants. This makes this hornet even more interesting as we may be able to design cheaper and/or more efficient solar cells if we can learn exactly how it accomplishes this.

RE: Photosynthesis
By sprockkets on 1/7/11, Rating: 0
RE: Photosynthesis
By Motamid on 1/8/2011 3:04:55 AM , Rating: 2
Perhaps I was unclear, but I am not stating that these hornets are not capable of converting solar energy into electricity. They do according to the original article and that is why I find them so intriguing.

What I was trying to explain is that photosynthesis does not produce directly usable electricity. Instead it uses light to energize electrons to aid in certain chemical reactions. It essentially stores the energy in sugars rather than producing a current.

RE: Photosynthesis
By sprockkets on 1/8/11, Rating: 0
RE: Photosynthesis
By Motamid on 1/9/2011 2:59:22 AM , Rating: 2
Correct, although I don't remember the exact article.

RE: Photosynthesis
By surt on 1/8/2011 6:34:08 PM , Rating: 2
and found that certain parts of its body are capable of converting the sun's energy into electric power much like plants do during photosynthesis

RE: Photosynthesis
By mindless1 on 1/7/2011 11:30:58 PM , Rating: 2
I feel you are splitting hairs here... Photosynthesis uses photons to energize electrons, while electrons are central to electricity and in fact electricity can be applied to substances to effect the same changes in molecules outside of a naturally occurring plant photosynthesis cycle.

We just can't do it efficiently nor do we have a good use for all that glucose in a non-biological machine... but a hornet certainly might!

RE: Photosynthesis
By Motamid on 1/8/2011 3:11:02 AM , Rating: 1
I may be :) I'm not too familiar with the newer dye sensitized solar cells, which probably operate closer to photosynthesis. But for normal silicon or multijunction solar cells there are no chemical reactions like there are in photosynthesis.

RE: Photosynthesis
By mindless1 on 1/8/2011 12:29:38 PM , Rating: 2
But you're only looking at half a process... take those normal silicon solar cells and immerse electrodes in solution, using their electricity to effect chemical reactions.

RE: Photosynthesis
By Motamid on 1/9/2011 4:15:18 AM , Rating: 2
But you're only looking at half a process... take those normal silicon solar cells and immerse electrodes in solution, using their electricity to effect chemical reactions.

Ah, but we can do more with those electrodes than just drive reactions. You can argue all day about how you can convert any form of energy to another. But, like you said, that doesn't mean it's efficient. If we try to mimic photosynthesis to generate electricity, we have to first find a method to efficiently capture the energized electrons from this system. Right now it's easier for us to just burn the carbohydrates produced through photosynthesis as biomass to generate electricity.

These hornets produce a measurable current. They already have a system that gives us usable electricity. We might be able to learn some tricks from this that could lead to cheap efficient solar cells.

RE: Photosynthesis
By Iaiken on 1/10/2011 1:33:29 PM , Rating: 2
I can't necessarily agree.

Scientists have been able to coax both photosynthetic algae and spinach cells to produce very small amounts of usable electricity. Both methods that I am aware of use gold nano-electrodes to essentially short circuit the electron transport chain and deionize the H+ atoms so involved by giving the electron a path of lower resistance.

Just because the end result of the process is chemical energy doesn't necessarily mean that electricity is not involved. It's just that instead of a torrent of electrons traveling down a wire, you have individual electrons traveling through a membrane on a boat made of Hydrogen.

RE: Photosynthesis
By geddarkstorm on 1/10/2011 2:47:54 PM , Rating: 2
No. Electrons do not travel through the membrane on a boat of hydrogen. Electrons are only used in the electron transport chain in redox reactions to PUMP hydrogen to one side of the membrane to make a gradient. It's the chemical power of the gradient which then literally turns the F0F1 ATPase like a turbine. Think of hydrogen like steam. This is a mechanical, not electrical, event.

Again, the electrons involved in the system are through redox reactions which triggers hydrogen pumping to make the disequilibrium. This is not electricity, this is not an electrical current, etc. Just like neurons do not actually send ELECTRICITY down axons, but instead ion equilibrium changes. Ions are "electrically charged" but it is not "electricity" by any means as we use for power (NO electron motion through a conductor, what so ever).

Gees, are people this science illiterate?

What this hornet is doing is completely different than photosynthesis. The pigment in the shell is acting as a conductor. Now, how the hornet uses this electricity in a biological way? I'm not sure, but it sounds like it's being used as a heat pump to keep the hornet cool during the day, allowing it to operate during noon time when other hornets can only operate at early morning and evening.

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