Vanessa HuxterAssistant Professor
Building: CSB 108
Education and Appointments
Our group uses innovative ultrafast spectroscopy and microscopy techniques to answer fundamental questions spanning biology, chemistry and physics. Through these techniques, we seek to understand collective interactions in systems organized on the nanoscale.
Photosynthetic Aggregates are More Than the Sum of Their Parts
Photosynthesis is a remarkably efficient and adaptable process that uses highly organized aggregates of pigments and proteins to capture light and convert it into chemical energy. The organizational structure of these aggregates allows for highly efficient energy transfer and an adaptive photoprotective response. Understanding the hidden interactions underlying the design of the photosynthetic apparatus is critical to the development of biomimetic solar technologies and high-yield biofuels. To uncover the interactions between individual components of photosynthetic aggregates, we use novel combinations of ultrafast spectroscopy and microscopy. By systematically scaling from a single molecule to an aggregate, our work reveals obscured dynamics and interactions, providing new insights into natural light harvesting.
Electronic Couplings Revealed by Disentangling Congested Spectra
Despite their critical importance and decades of study, the electronic structure and dynamics of photosynthetic systems with congested spectra are poorly understood. Even current state-of-the-art nonlinear spectroscopic measurements produce near featureless spectra. One of our projects employs mixed time-frequency domain spectroscopy to resolve the hidden energy transfer dynamics and internal interactions in these congested systems. By accessing electronic overlaps and interactions directly, we can disentangle couplings and electronic structure. This work had important implications for solar technology as the delocalization of excitation pertains to energy transfer and multi-excited states.
Ultrafast Optical Switching in Strained Nanocrystal Heterostructures
Colloidal semiconductor nanocrystal heterostructures have size-tunable optical and material properties that can be designed using synthetic chemical methods. Type II nanocrystal heterostructures are designed for charge separation, isolating the hole in one material and the electron in the other. In these systems, strain can be used as an adjustable parameter, capable of tuning the relative energy levels and changing the charge separation properties of the material. Using polarization controlled ultrafast optical spectroscopy to access the phonon modes, we can periodically strain the nanocrystals, shifting the relative separation of the levels and modifying charge separation. Using strain as an adjustable parameter to control the optical properties of heterostructures will provide new paths towards manufacturing robust, efficient solar cells and novel material systems.