Berkeley scientists shine new light on green plant secrets

The future of clean green solar power may well hinge on scientists being able to unravel the mysteries of photosynthesis, the process by which green plants convert sunlight into electrochemical energy. To this end, researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC), Berkeley have recorded the first observation and characterization of a critical physical phenomenon behind photosynthesis known as quantum entanglement.

Previous experiments led by Graham Fleming, a physical chemist holding joint appointments with Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley, pointed to quantum mechanical effects as the key to the ability of green plants, through photosynthesis, to almost instantaneously transfer solar energy from molecules in light harvesting complexes to molecules in electrochemical reaction centers. Now a new collaborative team that includes Fleming have identified entanglement as a natural feature of these quantum effects. When two quantum-sized particles, for example a pair of electrons, are "entangled," any change to one will be instantly reflected in the other, no matter how far apart they might be. Though physically separated, the two particles act as a single entity.Mohan Sarovar (seated) and (from left) Akihito Ishizaki, Birgitta Whaley and Graham Fleming carried out the first observation and characterization of quantum entanglement in a real biological system.  Credit: Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt, Berkeley Lab Public Affairs

"This is the first study to show that entanglement, perhaps the most distinctive property of quantum mechanical systems, is present across an entire light harvesting complex," says Mohan Sarovar, a post-doctoral researcher under UC Berkeley chemistry professor Birgitta Whaley at the Berkeley Center for Quantum Information and Computation. "While there have been prior investigations of entanglement in toy systems that were motivated by biology, this is the first instance in which entanglement has been examined and quantified in a real biological system."

The results of this study hold implications not only for the development of artificial photosynthesis systems as a renewable non-polluting source of electrical energy, but also for the future development of quantum-based technologies in areas such as supercomputing - a quantum computer could perform certain operations thousands of times faster than any conventional computer.

"The lessons we're learning about the quantum aspects of light harvesting in natural systems can be applied to the design of artificial photosynthetic systems that are even better," Sarovar says. "The organic structures in light harvesting complexes and their synthetic mimics could also serve as useful components of quantum computers or other quantum-enhanced devices, such as wires for the transfer of information."

What may prove to be this study's most significant revelation is that contrary to the popular scientific notion that entanglement is a fragile and exotic property, difficult to engineer and maintain, the Berkeley researchers have demonstrated that entanglement can exist and persist in the chaotic chemical complexity of a biological system.

"We present strong evidence for quantum entanglement in noisy non-equilibrium systems at high temperatures by determining the timescales and temperatures for which entanglement is observable in a protein structure that is central to photosynthesis in certain bacteria," Sarovar says.

Sarovar is a co-author with Fleming and Whaley of a paper describing this research that appears on-line in the journal Nature Physics titled "Quantum entanglement in photosynthetic light-harvesting complexes." Also co-authoring this paper was Akihito Ishizaki in Fleming's research group.

Green plants and certain bacteria are able to transfer the energy harvested from sunlight through a network of light harvesting pigment-protein complexes and into reaction centers with nearly 100-percent efficiency. Speed is the key – the transfer of the solar energy takes place so fast that little energy is wasted as heat. In 2007, Fleming and his research group reported the first direct evidence that this essentially instantaneous energy transfer was made possible by a remarkably long-lived, wavelike electronic quantum coherence.

Using electronic spectroscopy measurements made on a femtosecond (millionths of a billionth of a second) time-scale, Fleming and his group discovered the existence of "quantum beating" signals, coherent electronic oscillations in both donor and acceptor molecules. These oscillations are generated by the excitation energy from captured solar photons, like the waves formed when stones are tossed into a pond. The wavelike quality of the oscillations enables them to simultaneously sample all the potential energy transfer pathways in the photosynthetic system and choose the most efficient. Subsequent studies by Fleming and his group identified a closely packed pigment-protein complex in the light harvesting portion of the photosynthetic system as the source of coherent oscillations.

"Our results suggested that correlated protein environments surrounding pigment molecules (such as chlorophyll) preserve quantum coherence in photosynthetic complexes, allowing the excitation energy to move coherently in space, which in turn enables highly efficient energy harvesting and trapping in photosynthesis," Fleming says.

In this new study, a reliable model of light harvesting dynamics developed by Ishizaki and Fleming was combined with the quantum information research of Whaley and Sarovar to show that quantum entanglement emerges as the quantum coherence in photosynthesis systems evolves. The focus of their study was the Fenna-Matthews-Olson (FMO) photosynthetic light-harvesting protein, a molecular complex found in green sulfur bacteria that is considered a model system for studying photosynthetic energy transfer because it consists of only seven pigment molecules whose chemistry has been well characterized.

"We found numerical evidence for the existence of entanglement in the FMO complex that persisted over picosecond timescales, essentially until the excitation energy was trapped by the reaction center," Sarovar says.

"This is remarkable in a biological or disordered system at physiological temperatures, and illustrates that non-equilibrium multipartite entanglement can exist for relatively long times, even in highly decoherent environments."

The research team also found that entanglement persisted across distances of about 30 angstroms (one angstrom is the diameter of a hydrogen atom), but this length-scale was viewed as a product of the relatively small size of the FMO complex, rather than a limitation of the effect itself.

"We expect that long-lived, non-equilibrium entanglement will also be present in larger light harvesting antenna complexes, such as LH1 and LH2, and that in such larger light harvesting complexes it may also be possible to create and support multiple excitations in order to access a richer variety of entangled states," says Sarovar.

The research team was surprised to see that significant entanglement persisted between molecules in the light harvesting complex that were not strongly coupled (connected) through their electronic and vibrational states. They were also surprised to see how little impact temperature had on the degree of entanglement.

"In the field of quantum information, temperature is usually considered very deleterious to quantum properties such as entanglement," Sarovar says. "But in systems such as light harvesting complexes, we see that entanglement can be relatively immune to the effects of increased temperature."


The Institute of Physics (IOP) has announced this year's award winners with the Isaac Newton Medal, IOP's international medal, going to theoretical physicist Professor Edward Witten for outstanding, transformative contributions to physics.

As one of the most influential physicists of the past 30 years, he has had impact in areas ranging from the phenomenology of particle physics and cosmology to theoretical areas of string theory and quantum gravity.

Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, president of IOP, said of Professor Witten, "Professor Witten's originality, physical insight and mathematical power have revolutionised the subject. A most creative and productive theoretical physicist, he has had a tremendous impact in the areas of quantum field theory, general relativity and string theory.

"As the third ever winner of our Newton medal, following Anton Zeilinger and, last year, Alan Guth, we are delighted that Edward is coming over from the US to give the Newton Lecture and to receive his medal."

Professor Witten will be giving the Newton Lecture at the Institute of Physics on Friday 2 July.

This year's range of winners also includes pioneers of biological physics such as Professor Dame Athene Donald; architects of paradigm-shifting technologies like Professor Sir Michael Pepper; climate scientist Dr Myles Allen renowned for quantifying the role of uncertainty in predictions of future climate change, and media star Prof Brian Cox.

Jocelyn continued, "The range of winners shows how all-encompassing contemporary physics research is. From Professor Donald's studies into the structure of proteins to Dr Allen's climate models, just two examples of research that are helping us deal with some of the biggest issues our society faces - disease in an ageing population and climate change.

"Every one of our winners, as some of the world's very best physicists, has an incredible story to tell about the advances they are responsible for."

2010 Award Winners

Isaac Newton medal of the Institute of Physics
Professor Edward Witten
Institute for Advanced Studies
For his many profound contributions that have transformed areas of particle theory, quantum field theory and general relativity.

Business and Innovation medal of the Institute of Physics
Professor Sir Michael Pepper
University College London
For translating advances in semiconductor physics into the commercial arena, including key roles in founding Toshiba Research Europe, Cambridge Laboratory, and TeraView Ltd.

Dirac medal of the Institute of Physics
Professor James Binney
Rudolf Peierls Institute for Theoretical Physics, Oxford University
For his contribution to our understanding of how galaxies are constituted, how they work and how they were formed.

Faraday medal of the Institute of Physics
Professor Athene Donald
University of Cambridge
For her many highly original studies of the structures and behaviour of polymers both synthetic and natural.

Glazebrook medal of the Institute of Physics
Professor Peter Roberts
For his leadership in the design, physics and safety of nuclear weapons.

Appleton medal and prize
Dr Myles Allen
University of Oxford
For his important contributions to the detection and attribution of human influence on climate and quantifying uncertainty in climate predictions.

Franklin medal and prize
Professor Thomas Duke
University College London
For the application of physical principles to the development of elegant molecular sorting devices, for providing new insights into the organising principles of cells and for his primary contributions to a new generation of theories of how the inner ear works.

Gabor medal and prize
Professor Pratibha L Gai
The University of York
For her pioneering development of atomic – resolution environmental transmission electron microscopy and its application to instrument manufacture and industrial processing.

Hoyle medal and prize
Professor Carlos S Frenk
Institute for Computational Cosmology, University of Durham
For his major contributions to the development of the now widely accepted cold dark matter model by using cosmological simulations, novel methods for calculating the physics of galaxy formation and analysis of galaxy surveys.

Rutherford medal and prize
Professor Martin Freer
University of Birmingham
For establishing the existence of nuclear configurations analogous to molecules and demonstrating the existence of nucleon-clustering in key light nuclei, a long-standing issue in the field.

Thomson medal and prize
Professor Gaetana Laricchia
University College London
For her contributions to the development of the world's only positronium beam and its use to probe the properties of atoms and molecules

Maxwell medal and prize
Dr Peter Haynes
Imperial College London
For his work on linear-scaling methods for large-scale first-principles simulation of materials based on density-functional theory, in particular his leading role in the development of the ONETEP code used in both academe and industry.

Moseley medal and prize
Professor Jeremy O’Brien
University of Bristol
For his outstanding contributions to experimental quantum optics and quantum information science and in particular for pioneering the field of integrated quantum photonics.

Paterson medal and prize
Professor Stefan Maier
Imperial College London
For his important contributions to the fields of plasmonics and plasmonic metamaterials.

Bragg medal and prize
Peter Campbell
Science Learning Centre London
For his leading role in a wide range of projects that have made a significant impact on the physics curriculum and the teaching of physics.

Kelvin medal and prize
Professor Brian Cox
The University of Manchester
For communicating the appeal and excitement of physics to the general public through the broadcast media.


Eric Brewer, a professor at the University of California Berkeley, has been named  the recipient of the 2009 ACM-Infosys Foundation Award in the Computing Sciences for his contributions to the design and development of highly scalable Internet services.  Brewer laid the foundation for the giant data centers that make possible search, email, social networks, mapping, and other Internet services, and also enable cloud computing.   Brewer, 43, also proposed the CAP Theorem (the inherent incompatibility of Consistency, Availability, and Partition tolerance, the core requirements for applications in distributed environments), an indispensable concept for practitioners who build and operate systems that serve hundreds of millions of customers cost-effectively and efficiently.  He has directed his recent efforts to deliver information systems that benefit tens of thousands of people in developing countries with sustainable local resources.  

The ACM-Infosys Foundation Award, established in August 2007, recognizes personal contributions by young scientists and system developers to a contemporary innovation that exemplifies the greatest recent achievements in the computing field. Financial support for the $150,000 award is provided by an endowment from the Infosys Foundation. 

Learn more, read the ACM Press Release or visit the ACM - Infosys Foundation Award site.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council today announced a five-year £2.4 billion investment strategy in world-leading multi-disciplinary science and technology, designed to deliver maximum scientific, societal, international and economic benefit for the United Kingdom in the current
tougher financial environment.

"The Council of STFC has approved an affordable, robust and sustainable programme. This has involved tough choices affecting the entire programme including a managed withdrawal from some areas," STFC chairman, Professor Michael Sterling FREng, said.

"This is a major reorganisation of our programme to focus on the top priority items making use of the international subscriptions which, while costly, allow UK scientists critically important access to the world class facilities provided by these international consortia. We have also planned on the basis of the current value of the pound."

Professor Sterling said the strategic consolidation and redirection of the science programme would ensure continued major benefits for the UK.

"Taxpayers can be confident that their significant investment in research will deliver the highest quality, and most inspiring and beneficial, science and technology into the future," he said.

Professor Sterling acknowledged the hard work over many months by the members of Science Board, its science committees and panels, and STFC staff, to ensure Council received the best possible scientific advice.

"Council approved this programme based on the recommendations from Science Board and its advisory bodies, which comprise leading academics from across the disciplines supported by STFC. We also welcomed the advice given to Science Board from other bodies including the Economic Impact Advisory Board," Professor Sterling said.

The five-year programme includes:

-A budget of £461 million near-cash (plus £73m additional capital grants)
in 2010-11, which will allow STFC to make the transition to the new
programme from 2011-12 onward.  This budget assumes international
compensation and the additional £14 million referred to below.

-From 2010-11, ongoing support for our international subscriptions, a 10%
reduction in support for future exploitation grants and a managed
cessation of lower priority areas, 25% reduction in the number of new
studentships and Fellowships mirroring the overall reduction in the
programme since the 2007 baseline, and a rationalisation of our projects
based on prioritisation and affordability.

-Research Councils UK has agreed that the other Research Councils will
make up to £14m available to STFC from within the Science and Research
budget. This exceptional action, in financial year 2010-11 only, will
assist STFC to move to a sustainable new strategy in line with the level
of resource already provided to STFC by Government in CSR07. In particular
it will remove the risk that STFC's existing research grants to
universities, for scientific exploitation activities, would need to be
terminated early.

-£690 million over five years for support for particle physics in the UK,
focussing on work at the European particle physics laboratory CERN in
Geneva where the Large Hadron Collider is expected to start routine
science operations in January 2010, other experiments including into
properties of neutrinos, and grants to university groups in the UK to
exploit this investment.

-£639 million over five years for support for space science in the UK
through membership of the European Space Agency (ESA) including the Cosmic
Vision programme and the Aurora programme of planetary exploration
expected to deliver a robotic mission to Mars within 10 years, other
bilateral missions, and grants to university groups in the UK to exploit
this investment. We will seek to achieve an overall lower level of
support, including post launch support, for lower priority missions.

-£267 million over five years for support for ground-based astronomy in
the UK, focussing on access to the world-leading telescopes ALMA, VLT &
VISTA in Chile through membership of the European Southern Observatory
(ESO) organisation, ongoing research & development support for the
proposed Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and European Extremely Large
Telescope (E-ELT), operation of SCUBA-2 on the JCMT until 2012, previously
agreed support for e-MERLIN as part of our strategy for the SKA, and
grants to university groups in the UK to exploit this investment.

-£258 million over five years for access to light sources for the medical,
biological, chemistry, environmental, materials and other sciences and
engineering through the provision and upgrades of the Diamond Light Source
in Oxfordshire and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in

-£236 million over five years for access to neutron sources for the
medical, biological, chemistry, environmental, materials and other
sciences and engineering through the provision and upgrades of the ISIS
neutron-muon facility in Oxfordshire and the Institute Laue-Langevin in
Grenoble, as part of a wider European strategy for the future provision of

-£30 million over five years for support for nuclear physics, focussed on
the NUSTAR project, and grants to university groups in the UK to exploit
this investment.

-£27 million over five years for support for high powered laser research.
In addition we will invest substantial capital in the Vulcan 10 PetaWatt
laser upgrade.

-A refocused accelerator activity at Daresbury to take forward pioneering
work on the application of accelerators to physics, medical, bio-medical,
energy, engineering and other life sciences in the UK, building on the
existing investment in the Accelerator Science and Technology Centre
(ASTeC) and Cockcroft Institute at Daresbury, and previously agreed
support for the John Adams Institute at Oxford.

-Development of the National Science and Innovation Campuses at Harwell in
Oxfordshire, and Daresbury in Cheshire, confirming the two Campuses as
centres for new collaborative engagement between researchers, academics
and industry across the UK and Europe leading to new research outcomes,
new investment, and greater economic return.

-Provision of an extensive range of support and enabling technologies for
the entire research base across the UK and Europe, including the
Microelectronics Support Centre at Harwell delivering training for
engineers across Europe, the e-Science Centre supporting data transfer and
analysis across the entire UK academic network, and computational science
and engineering support for quantum chemistry, molecular simulation,
solid-state physics, materials simulation, engineering and environmental

-Ongoing support for public outreach and science communication, through
continuance of our award schemes and Fellowships, and public engagement
and communications, helping to ensure new generations of children are
enthused and inspired by science, and encouraged to continue study in
science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

As noted above the programme includes the managed withdrawal from a number of projects and programmes including the Gemini telescopes, the NLS, and UKIRT.

Chief Executive Officer, Professor Keith Mason, said discussions would be held in coming months with national and international partners, including universities, departments and project teams, on implementation of the investment strategy. This will include discussions with EPSRC and the University funding councils on the impact of these measures on physics departments in universities.

"We will ensure a managed withdrawal from those activities that we will no longer support, taking into account the fact that the academic and research community of scientists is a national resource. We recognise that ‘economic and societal impact' is a result of scientific achievement, and that scientific achievement is a result of the underlying academic and research community without whose ideas and drive no innovation would emerge," Professor Mason said.

"The programme adopted by Council is extensive and will require both external and internal re-alignment and change. The managed withdrawal from identified projects will allow members of our scientific communities to redirect their efforts, or where possible to seek other sources of funding for their projects.

"We have already initiated this process with our staff, universities; partner Research Councils, the Institute of Physics and Royal Astronomical Society, project leaders, international partners and others."

Professor Mason said the detailed implementation of some measures would, of necessity, await input from these stakeholder discussions. He said STFC was committed to regular assessment of projects and programmes to ensure scientific objectives were being met and value-for-money delivered.

"Our focus on ensuring the highest possible standards of scientific excellence, as well as delivery of maximum benefit for the taxpayer, underpinned the now-concluded programme prioritisation and will continue to be a core principle into the future," Professor Mason said.

This statement, contact information and further detail is available online at

The University of California Board of Regents on Nov. 19 named Paul Alivisatos director of the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which is managed by the university.

“Paul Alivisatos’ scientific expertise and management experience have earned the respect and confidence of the lab staff, the academic community, the DOE, and other federal and industrial sponsors,” said UC President Mark Yudof. “I am confident that Paul is the right leader for the Berkeley Lab at this pivotal point in its history. Under his leadership, Berkeley Lab will continue to make great contributions in science and to the world around us.”

Acting on the recommendation of Yudof and with the concurrence of the U.S. Department of Energy, the Regents appointed Alivisatos the seventh director of Berkeley Lab. The appointment takes effect immediately. Alivisatos replaces Steven Chu, who was sworn in as U.S. Secretary of Energy in January 2009.

“I’ve known Paul for many years,” said DOE Under Secretary for Science Steven E. Koonin. “He’s a wonderful scientist and has done a fine job as interim director. All of us at DOE look forward to helping him take the lab to new heights.”

The Board of Regents named Alivisatos interim director of Berkeley Lab in January 2009.
Since his appointment, Alivisatos has successfully led the laboratory in obtaining more than $220 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That funding will further the lab’s work in many areas, including computing support to the nation’s scientists, assistance to users of Berkeley Lab’s flagship Advanced Light Source and development of a new laser accelerator. In addition, Alivisatos and his management team are developing a number of new initiatives including a next-generation light source, integrating research on the carbon cycle across the lab, and reinvigorating the lab’s safety culture and its community relations.

“Berkeley Lab is a state, national and global resource with a strong sense of responsibility to the country and a profound sense of urgency to help the Department of Energy fulfill its important missions,” said Alivisatos. “I share these values and concerns and will work with my Berkeley Lab colleagues to ensure that we bring together the sharpest minds to find the best solutions to the energy problems that threaten our planet.”

Prior to this appointment, Alivisatos was the deputy director of Berkeley Lab, serving as the lab's chief research officer and overseeing the discretionary research budget, key research initiatives and technology transfer functions. In addition, he assisted the director in developing the overall strategic direction and institutional planning for the laboratory.

Alivisatos is a leader of Berkeley Lab's Helios solar research initiative, where he is spearheading ground-breaking research on artificial photosynthesis and photovoltaic technology through the creation of nano-inspired devices.

From 2005 to 2007, prior to being named deputy director of the Berkeley Lab, Alivisatos was associate laboratory director for physical sciences.

    From 2002 to 2008 he was director of the materials sciences division and from 2001 to 2005 was director of the Molecular Foundry at the lab. Alivisatos has been a member of the faculty at UC Berkeley since 1988, following the completion of his postdoctoral work at AT&T Bell Laboratories. He is currently the Larry and Diane Bock Professor of Nanotechnology and a professor in the departments of materials science and chemistry.

Alivisatos is a scientific founder of Quantum Dot Corp. and Nanosys Inc., and a board member of Solexant Inc. Alivisatos is the founding editor of Nano Letters, a publication of the American Chemical Society.

Alivisatos has published widely and is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award, the Eni Italgas Prize for Energy and Environment, the Rank Prize for Optoelectronics Award, the Wilson Prize, the Coblentz Award for Advances in Molecular Spectroscopy, and the Department of Energy's (DOE) Awards for Sustained Outstanding Research in Materials Chemistry and Outstanding Scientific Accomplishment in Materials Chemistry. He has held fellowships with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society, the American Chemical Society and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Alivisatos holds a Ph.D. in chemistry from UC Berkeley and a bachelor of arts in chemistry from the University of Chicago.

UC President Yudof initiated a national search for a permanent Berkeley Lab director in the summer of 2009. Yudof appointed a search committee of Regents and several prominent members of the university, laboratory and scientific community. The search committee was advised by a screening taskforce composed of eminent university and laboratory researchers and administrators. The search committee also received support from the executive search firm of Storbeck/ Pimentel and Associates.

As director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Alivisatos will earn $417,155 annually, representing a 2.5 percent ($10,175) increase over the current annual salary and a 16.9 percent ($60,155 dollar) increase over his current base salary as laboratory deputy director. Per university policy, he will receive an annual automobile allowance of $8,916. Per policy, Alivisatos is eligible for participation in the UC Mortgage Origination Program. Alivisatos also will receive standard pension and health and welfare benefits and standard senior management benefits, including senior manager life insurance, executive business travel insurance, executive salary continuation for disability, and an administrative fund for official entertainment and other purposes that comply with university policy. As a member of the UC tenured faculty in a senior management position, Alivisatos is eligible to accrue sabbatical credits.

The director's salary, like that of all other UC employees at the laboratory, is paid from funds derived from the federal DOE contract. No general funds from the state are used to pay the director's salary.
The University of California has managed Berkeley Lab since its inception in 1931, when it was one of the first laboratories of its kind showing the extraordinary value of multidisciplinary research, which ultimately led to the creation of the national laboratory system. Founded by Ernest O. Lawrence, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1939 for his invention of the cyclotron, Berkeley Lab has evolved into a multidisciplinary research facility advancing the forefront of scientific knowledge and addressing problems of national and global concern.

The DOE's Office of Science is the steward of 10 laboratories in the national laboratory system, including Berkeley Lab.

Today, Berkeley Lab performs research in nanoscience and advanced materials, life sciences, computing, energy and Earth sciences, physics, and cosmology. It also operates a homeland security office dedicated to leveraging fundamental scientific research to develop methods for ensuring the safety of our country. Researchers at the laboratory have won nine Nobel Prizes and 12 National Medals of Science. More than 250 Berkeley Lab faculty and scientists hold joint appointments with UC Berkeley and other UC campuses.

More information regarding the search process for the director of the Berkeley Lab can be found online at:

More information about the University of California can be found online at:

Page 9 of 22