The process by which green plants and certain other organisms transform light energy into chemical energy is called photosynthesis. Dr. Chong Liu, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles, developed a bio-inorganic hybrid system for artificial photosynthesis based on the synergy of materials science and biology.
The special device developed by Chong can mimic the functions of plants and collect solar energy to generate electricity that will later be used to generate oxygen and hydrogen using water. The bacteria in water can then convert hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen in the air into biofertilizers or fuel.
Chong’s graduate study has pioneered the development of nanowire-bacteria hybrid systems for solar-driven CO2 reduction with high efficiency. In 2016, he demonstrated that this method has higher energy efficiency than natural photosynthesis. In 2017, he clarified how this method could be extended to synthetic bio-organic fertilizers. In 2019, the practical application of this method and its industrialization prospects were also confirmed. From beginning to end, his research goal was to find a solution to the sustainable development of the chemical industry.
In Chong's view, in addition to the synthesis of organic fertilizers, this technology can also be used to synthesize organic fuels and drug molecules. He hopes to continue to improve its energy efficiency. The future application scenario can be residential where people can synthesize complex compounds, such as fertilizers, fuels, and drug molecules, without leaving the house.
Chong said that his research is essentially about the interaction and energy exchange between materials and microorganisms on a microscopic scale. He thought of using knowledge in the field of materials to enrich people's methods of studying intestinal microflora, thereby increasing our understanding of it. In his vision, if a platform based on nanomaterials could be designed, the distribution of human microorganisms can be quickly identified, which will have huge medical potential.