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Oriental hornet  (Source: Sciencedaily.com/Wikimedia 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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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
quote:
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.


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