In June, the U.S. Department of Energy made an announcement that seemed fairly banal — it set aside $100 million this year to fund 22 new Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRC) and renew several others. One of them, a new lab at Princeton University, is slated to receive almost $11 million over four years. But just past the surface, that announcement marked the start of a project that could prove to be revolutionary. A team of prominent scientists has banded together to answer scientific questions about energy and the environment that are currently impossible to solve. If the team succeeds, it will have discovered a way to power the world with plants and industrial waste, breaking us of our addiction to polluting fossil fuels. And it will have created an entirely new branch of science in the process. That field of science is called Bioinspired Light-Escalated Chemistry (BioLEC). Its goal: figure out how to use the energy of two photons, the tiniest quantifiable units of light, to power chemical reactions. It sounds simple on paper — in fact, plants do it all the time as part of photosynthesis. But BioLEC is a lot more complicated than shining a flashlight […]

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