Special Department Lecture - Dakota [Cody] McCoy (Harvard)
Title: Harnessing the sun: from “super black” animals to solar-powered reefs
Abstract: Solar energy shapes climate and life on a planetary scale. Living creatures harness sunlight to drive many processes, ranging from the purely local to global climate change. At the local scale, “super black” birds and spiders, marvelous examples of natural optical technology, use microscopic structures to manipulate and absorb more than 99% of light— a discovery that has sparked research into thermal, stealth, and solar applications (including new spider-inspired solar panels with promising early results). These findings established the analytical framework for a global-scale research topic: photosynthesis in coral reef communities. Marine ecosystems depend on the solar-powered symbioses between reef animals (such as coral and sponges) and photosynthetic organisms (such as algae). The physics of how these animals manipulate light to support photosynthesis is little-understood, despite its scientific importance and ecological impact. I will apply my biophotonic methods to solar-powered symbioses, with three aims: (i) expand our understanding of photosynthesis—the engine powering much life on our planet—across the tree of life; (ii) explain the physical reason that corals bleach severely while other photosynthetic animals do not; and (iii) provide insights into how to protect coral reef ecosystems. As a side benefit, this work may influence sustainable technology, such as solar panel design or algal farming methods.
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About this Series:
Weekly talks given by leading thinkers in the areas of geology, geophysics, geobiology, geochemistry, atmospheric science, oceanography, climatology, and planetary science. Lectures take place on Wednesdays from 4pm EST unless otherwise noted. For more information please contact: Maggie Cedarstrom, email@example.com.