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"Life is nothing but an electron looking for a place to rest"

   - Albert Szent-Györgyi (Nobel Laureate in Physiology 1937)


Bio-hybrid approaches for energy conversion
Nature has built a multitude of impressive catalysts and molecular machineries that cannot be replicated in the lab. We want to combine the strengths of nature with the progress of materials chemistry to develop biohybrid devices that can more sustainably generate and store renewable energy. Such biohybrid devices are different to state-of-the-art solid state technology because they exploit Earth-abundant and environmentally friendly bio-materials that have a wide catalytic repertoire, are self-renewing and robust, and operates efficiently in diverse terrains and environmental conditions. 

3D printing of (photo)electrodes
The choice of electrodes used in any (photo)electrochemical and electrocatalytic system matters enormously. In particular, the macro-architecture of the electrode, the nano-roughness of the surfaces, and the material properties of the electrode can all influence the overall performance. We explore 3D printing and other state-of-the-art fabrication methods to tailor electrodes and electrochemical cells to host various electrocatalysts. Coupled with this, we collaborate with others to develop novel electrochemical approaches to characterise complex 3D electrode structures in ways that classical electron microscopy and imaging techniques cannot probe. We also employ machine learning to model ideal electrode structures. 

Photosynthesis on an electrode
Photosynthesis is the primary light energy conversion process that underpins life, food security, and carbon/nitrogen/oxygen cycles on Earth. The complex chemistry and biophysics occurring within photosynthetic organisms are both inspirational and baffling to scientists of many disciplines, the unravelling of which could have far reaching impact on agricultural and bio-energy technologies in the future. 

Electrochemistry is a sensitive and powerful technique for interrogating redox processes, and lies at the heart of many energy conversion technologies, sensor technologies, and synthetic processes. Here, we 'wire' photosynthetic proteins, components and even living organisms to electrodes for electrochemical analysis to better understand the fundamental redox chemistry, pathways, and bottlenecks that lie within photosynthesis and at the bio-electrode interface. We work with theoreticians to develop models for explaining, and eventually predicting and controlling electron transfer pathways at the bio-electrode interface. 

Cyanobacteria are one of the oldest and most abundant life forms on Earth (they thrive in the oceans, glaciers and even hot springs!), and are only going to become more abundant with global warming. They play important ecological roles, contributing to the regulation of the oxygen, carbon, nitrogen cycles in the ocean and atmosphere. However, much still remain unknown regarding how these cells perform and regulate electron flow to enable complex tasks. For example, how do these cells mitigate light damage and redox stress?  How do they integrate the actions of two competing processes, photosynthesis and respiration? Why and how do they expel energetic electrons to their environment (also known as exoelectrogenesis)? These are some of the questions that we are trying to answer about cyanobacteria and other photosynthetic organisms using electrochemistry, synthetic biology and a range of chemical biology approaches including fluorescence microscopy and ultra-fast spectroscopy.


Our platforms can be used in many interdisciplinary contexts. Research themes that we are exploring in the near future include:

- Biofouling and antimicrobial resistance

- Coral bleaching

- Environmental and agricultural sensing





Related Publications 

Advancing photosystem II photoelectrochemistry for semi-artificial photosynthesis
JZ Zhang, E Reisner – Nature Reviews Chemistry (2019) 4, 6
Interfacing nature's catalytic machinery with synthetic materials for semi-artificial photosynthesis
N Kornienko, JZ Zhang, KK Sakimoto, P Yang, E Reisner – Nature nanotechnology (2018) 13, 890
Photoelectrochemistry of Photosystem II in Vitro vs in Vivo
JZ Zhang, P Bombelli, KP Sokol, A Fantuzzi, AW Rutherford, CJ Howe, E Reisner – Journal of the American Chemical Society (2017) 140, 6
Competing charge transfer pathways at the photosystem II-electrode interface
JZ Zhang, KP Sokol, N Paul, E Romero, R van Grondelle, E Reisner – Nature Chemical Biology (2016) 12, 1046
Solar Water Splitting with a Hydrogenase Integrated in Photoelectrochemical Tandem Cells.
DH Nam, JZ Zhang, V Andrei, N Kornienko, N Heidary, A Wagner, K Nakanishi, KP Sokol, B Slater, I Zebger, S Hofmann, JC Fontecilla-Camps, CB Park, E Reisner – Angewandte Chemie (International ed. in English) (2018) 57, 10595
Wiring of Photosystem II to Hydrogenase for Photoelectrochemical Water Splitting
D Mersch, C-Y Lee, JZ Zhang, K Brinkert, JC Fontecilla-Camps, AW Rutherford, E Reisner – Journal of the American Chemical Society (2015) 137, 8541