IMS Student Peter Ciesielski wins 2008 Best Student Research Paper from School of Engineering
Peter Ciesielski, a VINSE IGERT Ph.D. student in the Jennings and Cliffel groups, has won the 2008 Best Student Research Paper Award from the
Vanderbilt University School of Engineering. Peter's article, entitled ³Functionalized Nanoporous Gold Leaf Electrode Films for the Immobilization
of Photosystem I,² was published in the prestigious journal ACS Nano, Vol 2, pp. 2465-2472, in 2008. ACS Nano, in only its second year of existence, is
considered a highly influential repository for beautiful images and innovative methods in nanoscience and nanotechnology. As evidence for
immediate impact, Nature Nanotechnology, New Scientist, and dozens of other sources have highlighted Peter¹s article as the forefront of interdisciplinary collaboration to provide a new approach to create a ³photosynthesizing cyborg.²
Peter's research project involves the integration and assembly of Photosystem I (PSI), which is a 10 nm protein complex extracted from green
plants, at electrode surfaces to convert light into electricity. PSI functions as a nanoscale photodiode and is one of the two fundamental
machines that drives photosynthesis in plants. The project has potential applications in new, biomimetic solar energy conversion strategies by
mimicking photosynthesis and represents integral fundamental considerations when chemically wiring biologically optimized molecules to electrode
surfaces. Nonetheless, the amount of photocurrent from PSI is limited by the interfacial area for charge injection between PSI and the electrode
In the award-winning article, Peter solved the problem of the limited interfacial area and demonstrated many remarkable results in the process.
1) He developed a method to prepare ultrathin (100 nm thick) nanoporous gold electrode films that are robustly anchored to an underlying glass or
gold-coated glass support. At 6 cents of materials cost per cm2 of geometric area, these films are ideal for applications where high
interfacial area is required but at very low electrode thicknesses that allow light penetration. The beauty of Peter¹s method is that it is
extremely simple and can be achieved with affordable, commercially available materials. 2) Peter functionalized the interior structure of the pores to
covalently bind the PSI protein complexes. He showed that complete incorporation of PSI is only achieved when the pores are enlarged and
surface area is reduced to a target level. The characterization of biological molecules within nanopores is extremely challenging, and here,
Peter utilized a cadre of experimental tools to provide unequivocal evidence for protein integration throughout the structure. 3) Peter demonstrated that
the bound PSI within the nanoporous electrode provides 8-fold greater currents than PSI at flat electrodes at a modest light intensity of 80 W/m2.
His work lays the foundation for further advances in the design and assembly of biomimetic solar cells and the wiring of Nature¹s optimized molecular
machines at well-defined surfaces.