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Bruce P. Wittmershaus - Luminescent Solar Concentrators, Photosynthesis

My general area of research is in the interaction of light with matter. Specifically, I am working on the use of biological and chemical molecules in devices that use light and the study of how photosynthetic organisms harness and use light. Our research uses the tools of absorption and fluorescence steady-state spectroscopy, ultrafast time-resolved fluorescence spectroscopy and temperature-dependent spectroscopy measurements. The two projects major projects we are involved in are the development of luminescent solar concentrators and the study of excitation energy transfer in photosystem I of photosynthetic organisms.

Our work on luminescent solar concentrators (LSC) is funded through a National Science Foundation GOALI-RUI grant as interdisciplinary research collaboration between Penn State Erie-The Behrend College and the scientists of Molecular Probes Inc., Eugene, Oregon. Our primary objective is to use fluorescent microspheres and dyes manufactured by Molecular Probes in LSCs and assess their performance in converting sunlight to electricity. A LSC is a thin, flat plate of highly fluorescent material that uses total internal reflection to concentrate light at its edges where it is converted to electricity by semiconductor solar cell material. The main advantage of the LSC is its cost. It acts as a cheap, non-directional, area collector of light by focusing 75% of the photons it absorbs down to a very small area of expensive semiconductor material. We are also interested in assessing the potential of these materials in other optical applications, such as lasers, and assisting Molecular Probes in improving their fluorescent bioprobes.

Biophysics is another active area of our work. We are currently doing steady-state, temperature-dependent spectroscopy on photosystem I particles to better understand the role of chlorophylls with energy levels below that of the reaction center. These low-energy chlorophylls may play a key role in how plants collect energy from the sun for conversion into chemical energy.

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