Mary Katherine Battles is a Chemistry major at Rutgers University entering her third year.
Q: Please describe your research in a way that would be understandable to someone without any scientific or technical background. Photosynthesis is the process by which phototrophs fix carbon through the absorption of sunlight in order to meet their energy needs. The end products of the process, ATP and NADPH, allow the cells to propel their natural functions. Energy from the sunlight is both renewable and potent, and our research focuses on constructing a method by which this energy-producing system can be used to generate hydrogen gas rather than NADPH. By doing this we create a way to store the energy, hydrogen gas, and save it to be released later through bond breakage. Our research involves the system centered around the core components photosystem II (PSII), cytochrome, and photosystem I (PSI). These three components control electron movement as the electron is excited from PSII, through cytochrome, and ends up at PSI. Specifically, we deal with the preparation and analysis of PSII on graphene oxide.
Q: How did you come to be involved in this research? My mentor, John Harrold, was the TA for my Intro to Experimentation lab last fall. I spoke to him about pursuing research to see if I would enjoy the research side of chemistry. I was fortunate to work with John in the lab of Dr. Paul Falkowski, Director of the REI.
Q: Where do you see your research fitting into our energy future? Our research is threaded into the center of renewable energy production. Like other solar power devices, our system will use the sun’s light to generate energy for human use. Solar power devices can often be expensive and delicate systems, so our method carries the same intentions but different ingenuity. Ideally, we would like our “homemade” photosynthesis to be capable of mass-producing hydrogen gas, which can then be stored and shipped to homes where the bonds can be split whenever energy is required.