By Will Soutter
Chemists at Boston College have made use of silicon nanowires to emulate a process similar to photosynthesis for collecting solar energy in order to power reactions that synthesize the basic compounds employed in two well known anti-inflammatory pain killers.
While most research pertaining to solar power aims at converting sunlight into clean energy for meeting commercial and residential power requirements, Assistant Professors of Chemistry, Dunwei Wang and Kian L. Tan have carried out research to apply solar power for fuelling a photosynthesis-like process.
Plants make use of solar energy and carbon dioxide to power chemical reactions. Previous methods of sequestering carbon dioxide with sunlight have limited application of the resulting reactions to fuel production owing to the issue of low selectivity of carbon. The process developed by the team led by Wang and Tan has been claimed to address this problem and is deemed to have the necessary selectivity to produce organic compounds capable of synthesizing pharmaceutical drugs. The team used the tiny wire-like nanostructures of silicon labeled as nanonets for collecting the required solar energy. The nanonets acted as a photocathode by converting incident light to electrons. The electrons were shifted to organic molecules of aromatic ketone where the electrons bound the carbon dioxide. Subsequent production of an acid generated the antecedents for the drugs characterized by increased yield and selectivity. Tan stated that their success was due to the synergy of materials and synthetic chemistry. He also said that like all scientists, their team has also looked to nature for inspiration.