Photosynthetic reaction center as a quantum heat engine. Academic Article uri icon


  • Two seemingly unrelated effects attributed to quantum coherence have been reported recently in natural and artificial light-harvesting systems. First, an enhanced solar cell efficiency was predicted and second, population oscillations were measured in photosynthetic antennae excited by sequences of coherent ultrashort laser pulses. Because both systems operate as quantum heat engines (QHEs) that convert the solar photon energy to useful work (electric currents or chemical energy, respectively), the question arises whether coherence could also enhance the photosynthetic yield. Here, we show that both effects arise from the same population-coherence coupling term which is induced by noise, does not require coherent light, and will therefore work for incoherent excitation under natural conditions of solar excitation. Charge separation in light-harvesting complexes occurs in a pair of tightly coupled chlorophylls (the special pair) at the heart of photosynthetic reaction centers of both plants and bacteria. We show the analogy between the energy level schemes of the special pair and of the laser/photocell QHEs, and that both population oscillations and enhanced yield have a common origin and are expected to coexist for typical parameters. We predict an enhanced yield of 27% in a QHE motivated by the reaction center. This suggests nature-mimicking architectures for artificial solar energy devices.

published proceedings

  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

altmetric score

  • 19.428

author list (cited authors)

  • Dorfman, K. E., Voronine, D. V., Mukamel, S., & Scully, M. O.

citation count

  • 228

complete list of authors

  • Dorfman, Konstantin E||Voronine, Dmitri V||Mukamel, Shaul||Scully, Marlan O

publication date

  • February 2013