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Biologically templated photocatalytic nanostructures for sustained light-driven water oxidation


Over several billion years, cyanobacteria and plants have evolved highly organized photosynthetic systems to shuttle both electronic and chemical species for the efficient oxidation of water1. In a similar manner to reaction centres in natural photosystems, molecular2 and metal oxide3 catalysts have been used to photochemically oxidize water. However, the various approaches involving the molecular design of ligands4, surface modification5 and immobilization6,7 still have limitations in terms of catalytic efficiency and sustainability. Here, we demonstrate a biologically templated nanostructure for visible light-driven water oxidation that uses a genetically engineered M13 virus scaffold to mediate the co-assembly of zinc porphyrins (photosensitizer) and iridium oxide hydrosol clusters (catalyst). Porous polymer microgels are used as an immobilization matrix to improve the structural durability of the assembled nanostructures and to allow the materials to be recycled. Our results suggest that the biotemplated nanoscale assembly of functional components is a promising route to significantly improved photocatalytic water-splitting systems.

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Figure 1: Synthesis of IrO2–porphyrin nanowires.
Figure 2: Transmission electron micrographs of porphyrin and IrO2–porphyrin nanowires.
Figure 3: Oxygen evolution from IrO2–porphyrin nanowires.
Figure 4: Regeneration of catalytic materials.


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Y.S.N. would like to thank Y. Zhang for assistance with the scanning transmission electron microscopy, E.L. Shaw for help with the X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, and K. Choi for experimental help and manuscript preparation. A.P.M thanks S. Cui for experimental help. This work was supported from Eni, S.p.A. (Italy) through the MIT Energy Initiative Program. We acknowledge the MIT Center for Materials Science and Engineering for use of microscopy and materials analysis facilities supported under grant no. DMR-9808941.

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Authors and Affiliations



Y.S.N. designed the study, prepared samples, collected data, performed oxygen evolution analyses, analysed data and wrote the manuscript. A.P.M. helped design experiments and analyse data, built the oxygen analysis system and edited the manuscript. D.L. fabricated the virus microgels, optimized the fabrication processes, and edited the manuscript. J.W.K. suggested, designed and fabricated the virus microgels. D.S.Y. carried out the biopanning experiment. H.P. performed oxygen evolution analyses, scopoletin assays and ICP-AES analyses. T.S.P. performed biological experiments and edited the manuscript. D.A.W. supervised the microgel research and edited the manuscript. A.M.B. designed the study, supervised the overall work and edited the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Angela M. Belcher.

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Nam, Y., Magyar, A., Lee, D. et al. Biologically templated photocatalytic nanostructures for sustained light-driven water oxidation. Nature Nanotech 5, 340–344 (2010).

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