skip to content

How does electricity power plants?

3:30pm-4:15pm on Monday 29 March

Times shown are in GMT (UTC +0) up to the 27th March. For events on or after 28th March times are in BST (UTC +1).

Join us on our YouTube channel to watch this talk live and take part in a Q&A session with the speaker:


Plants and other photosynthetic organisms need water and light to grow. Water keeps the plants in shape, is the medium for transporting nutrients and, perhaps surprisingly, provides a source of electrons on which photosynthesis is based. Light is the primary source of energy for plants, and they use it to extract electrons from water in a process named ‘photo-lysis’. The extracted electrons pass as tiny electric currents through a chain of proteins and are ultimately used to reduce carbon dioxide to make sugars.

The foundations of our understanding of the flow of electrons in photosynthetic cells were laid in Cambridge sixty years ago. This has opened the door to many exciting applications, including the possibility of direct harvesting of electricity from plants and photosynthetic microorganisms to supply, almost literally, ‘green’ energy.

In this talk, Dr Paolo Bombelli from the Department of Biochemistry will show how plants use light to remove electrons from water, pass the electrons through proteins, and then use the electrons to turn carbon dioxide and water into sugars. Paolo will also demonstrate how our understanding of photosynthesis can open up many useful, and green, applications.

The talk will be followed by a Q&A session with Paolo and Professor Christopher Howe.


To keep up to date with all of the Biochemistry Department’s news for the 2021 Cambridge Festival, give us a follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@CamBiochem)!


Paolo Bombelli is based in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge and the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Milan. He works with academics, industrial partners and non-profit organisations to combine biology, materials science and engineering, in order to translate the fundamental electrochemistry of photosynthesis into practical applications.

Christopher Howe is Professor of Plant and Microbial Biochemistry in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, and has spent the last forty years studying the biochemistry and evolution of photosynthesis.

Booking/Registration is: UNAVAILABLE

Additional Information

Age: Adults, Young Adults 12 – 18
Timing: Available on Demand, Live Stream
Theme: Environment, Explore
Image copyright: Elena Mitrofanova, Moscow, Russia;

You might also like...

Read more at: Invention and innovation: How engineers are manufacturing a better world

Invention and innovation: How engineers are manufacturing a better world

10:30am-11:30am on Wednesday 31 March
Live Stream
Available on Demand
Children under 12
Young Adults 12 – 18

Professor Tim Minshall will look at the ways in which engineers, as creative problem-solvers, are trying to address the many challenges we read...