When hippies say we should learn from plants, they mean we should sit around on the grass and maybe smoke some other grass. When scientists say it, they mean we should strap plants down and fire thousands of laser pulses at them per second to make them give up their secrets. This tells you everything you need to know about humanity: we have incredible technology, insatiable curiosity, and even when we're trying to unlock the secrets of green solar power we're prepared to shoot at things to get it.
We all know that photosynthesis is responsible for almost all life on the planet - unless you want to live at the bottom of the Marianas Trench or in some radioactive rocks, green plants are why you're able to move around. But some steps in this vital energy-harvesting system have remained frustratingly unclear, which is why an Irish researcher used Rutherford Appleton Laboratory's Astra laser to blast things until they answered his questions.
The Astra laser, which sounds like it should be defending the Earth from Ming the Merciless, can produce pulses only forty femtoseconds long - that's less than half of a tenth of a trillionth of a second, aka "Shorter than you can actually imagine without going cross-eyed." Directing these ultrashort pulses into photosynthesising proteins, scientists can take snapshots of the exact steps of the energy-absorbing process in unprecedented detail. The work so far uses bacteria with similar protein operations to plants, and if the idea of bathing specially-selected half-plantish bacteria in laser energy worries you then congratulations, you read comics!
These ultra-accurate images mean maps can be made with single shots, which is good, because other systems which need multiple exposures run into problems like "wrecking the target with multiple laser exposures." So the next time someone tells you to go green, inform them that that doesn't mean using hemp bags for your organic soymilk - it means laser beams and bacteria.
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