Copper Seashells: A Bio-Inspired Catalyst for Photosynthesis

Copper Seashells: A Bio-Inspired Catalyst for Photosynthesis

Collections: Image Award Winners

Eric Lehnhardt, Will Records, Angela Belcher

Koch Institute at MIT

Inspired by nature’s ability to make seashells from proteins and minerals, the Belcher Lab uses the tools of biological engineering to create structures from proteins and copper—not unlike a copper seashell. The resulting crystals, seen here under an electron microscope, artificially do the work of photosynthesis: turning water, carbon dioxide, and energy into sugars and alcohols. By experimenting with the orientation and organization of atoms in the crystalized copper, researchers are working to optimize their synthetic “seashells” to reduce waste and lower manufacturing costs for more effective production of carbon-neutral fuels.

black and white copper crystals fill the field


Eric Lehnhardt presents the story behind his award-winning image.