As a young man, Kenneth Sauer joined Berkeley Lab four years after arriving in Berkeley for his postdoctoral position with famed chemist Melvin Calvin. By that time, he had accepted an assistant professorship in UC Berkeley’s Department of Chemistry to continue what would be his life’s scientific work on the intricate physical process of photosynthesis. He remained active for over 50 years and was, most recently, a professor emeritus of chemistry at UC Berkeley. Sauer died at the age of 91 following a brief illness on November 6, 2022.
Advances in cryogenic electron microscopy have enabled an international team of experts to visualize the structure of a cyanobacterial phycobilisome with nearly atomic resolution. The work, a collaboration among researchers at Michigan State University, UC Berkeley, Berkeley Lab, and the University of South Bohemia in the Czech Republic, was published in Nature. Knowing the position of different proteins and pigments helps scientist better understand this natural process and can inspire future applications in areas such as renewable energy and environmental remediation.
A team of scientists, including many in the Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging Division, uncovered new details about the reaction that powers photosynthesis. Understanding this reaction could lead to world-changing advances in technology, medicine, or energy––and also gives insight into how the enzyme photosystem II produces the oxygen we breathe. Their latest work was recently published in Nature Communications and two of the authors, Vittal Yachandra and Philipp Simon, spoke with Strategic Communications about that, shooting stuff with lasers, and why they chose this field of research.
Heinz Frei, a senior scientist in Biosciences’ Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging (MBIB) Division, seeks to engineer devices that emulate photosynthesis – the sunlight-driven chemical reaction that green plants and algae use to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into cellular fuel. If the necessary technology could be refined past theoretical models and lab-scale prototypes, this idea, known as artificial photosynthesis, has the potential to generate large sources of completely renewable energy using the surplus CO2 in our atmosphere.
An article published in the Computing Sciences News Center describes how Biosciences researchers are using a superfacility framework of experimental instrumentation with computational and data facilities to unravel the long-standing mystery of how Photosystem (PSII) works. The protein complex plays a crucial role in photosynthesis, making it key to achieving artificial photosynthesis that could produce fuels using sunlight and carbon dioxide. Researchers—led by Vittal Yachandra, Junko Yano, and Jan Kern in Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging (MBIB)—recently began using ESnet to enable real-time processing of experimental data collected at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at NERSC to observe this water-splitting protein in action. Asmit Bhowmick, a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of MBIB senior scientist Nicholas Sauter, is quoted in the article.