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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 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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