Photosynthetic light harvesting: Excitons and coherence

Francesca Fassioli, Rayomond Dinshaw, Paul C. Arpin, Gregory D. Scholes

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

224 Scopus citations


Photosynthesis begins with light harvesting, where specialized pigment-protein complexes transform sunlight into electronic excitations delivered to reaction centres to initiate charge separation. There is evidence that quantum coherence between electronic excited states plays a role in energy transfer. In this review, we discuss how quantum coherence manifests in photosynthetic light harvesting and its implications. We begin by examining the concept of an exciton, an excited electronic state delocalized over several spatially separated molecules, which is the most widely available signature of quantum coherence in light harvesting.We then discuss recent results concerning the possibility that quantum coherence between electronically excited states of donors and acceptors may give rise to a quantum coherent evolution of excitations, modifying the traditional incoherent picture of energy transfer.Key to this (partially) coherent energy transfer appears to be the structure of the environment, in particular the participation of non-equilibrium vibrational modes. We discuss the open questions and controversies regarding quantum coherent energy transfer and how these can be addressed using new experimental techniques.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20130901
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number92
StatePublished - Mar 6 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Bioengineering
  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Biotechnology
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biomaterials


  • Coherence
  • Energy transfer
  • Exciton
  • Light harvesting


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