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Test-Tube Photosynthesis Turns Water into Oxygen

Photonics Spectra
May 1999
One of the great mysteries in nature is how plants use sunlight to turn water into oxygen. A group from Yale University in New Haven, Conn., has engineered a device that could help researchers better understand this complex phenomenon.

The group used a metal cluster of two manganese atoms activated by bleach to serve as the catalyst, mimicking the naturally occurring four-manganese cluster involved in most plant reactions. It tested the synthetic complex by bombarding the crystal with a beam of x-rays, which produced a pattern of beams that revealed the position of atoms in the crystal. Then the researchers used a computer to construct a color-coded map based on the scattering of the x-rays, providing them with insight into the design of the natural complex. A recent article in Science detailed their findings.

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